Otto Warmbier, 21, a student at the University of Virginia, was
detained before boarding his flight to China over an unspecified
incident at his hotel, his tour agency told Reuters in January.
North Korea has a long history of detaining foreigners and has used
jailed U.S. citizens in the past to exact high-profile visits from
the United States, with which it has no formal diplomatic relations.
"I committed the crime of taking out a political slogan from the
staff-only area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel," the North's
KCNA news agency quoted Warmbier as telling media in Pyongyang, the
North Korean capital.
CNN showed video of a sobbing Warmbier saying: "I have made the
worst mistake of my life, but please act to save me."
Warmbier said a "deaconess" had offered him a used car worth $10,000
if he could present a U.S. church with the slogan as a "trophy" from
North Korea, KCNA said.
The acquaintance also said the church would pay his mother $200,000
if he was detained by the North and did not return, KCNA quoted
Warmbier as saying.
"My crime is very severe and pre-planned," Warmbier was quoted as
saying, adding that he was impressed by North Korea's "humanitarian
treatment of severe criminals like myself".
Warmbier's family have not heard from him since his arrest,
according to a statement provided to the Cavalier Daily, the
University of Virginia's student-run newspaper.
"He seems to be in good health, although we won't know for sure
about his condition until we have a chance to speak with him," the
Other Westerners detained in North Korea previously have confessed
to crimes against the state.
North Korea's state media said in January that Warmbier "was caught
committing a hostile act against the state", which it said was
"tolerated and manipulated by the U.S. government".
[to top of second column]
The senior pastor at Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming,
Ohio, told CNN that he did not know the person identified by
Warmbier in the KCNA story as a deaconess there, and said Warmbier
was not a member of the congregation.
According to KCNA, Warmbier also said he was encouraged in his act
by a member of the Z Society, an elite philanthropic organisation at
the University of Virginia that he hoped to join.
An official in the university's communications office could not
immediately be reached for comment.
Isolated North Korea is expected to face tough new U.N. Security
Council resolution following its nuclear test in January and a
long-range rocket launch this month.
Warmbier was on a five-day New Year's tour of North Korea with a
group of 20 and was delayed at immigration before being taken away
by two airport officials, according to a tour operator that had
sponsored the trip.
While the vast majority of tourists to North Korea are from China,
roughly 6,000 Westerners visit the country annually, though the
United States and Canada advise against it.
Most are adventure-seekers curious about life behind the last sliver
of the iron curtain, and ignore critics who say their dollars prop
up a repressive regime.
(Additional reporting by Jee Heun Kahng; Editing by Tony Munroe and
[© 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2016 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.