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Detainee in North tipped to be pastor

Pyongyang names American facing unspecified charges over preaching

Aijalon Mahli Gomes (far left) with women in a rally for North Koreans (photo: Jo Sung-rae) Aijalon Mahli Gomes (far left) with women in a rally for North Koreans (photo: Jo Sung-rae)
  • Stephen Hong, Seoul
  • Korea
  • April 15, 2011
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A Korean American arrested and detained by North Korea since November may be a Protestant pastor with an interest in evangelization in the North, media reported in South Korea today.

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported yesterday that "an American, Jun Young-su, has been detained since last November." KCNA is preparing charges against him on unspecified crimes to which, it said, he has confessed.

On April 12, the US state department called for the release of one of its citizens but did not mention Jun by name, apparently at the request of his family.

South Korean media have reported that Jun, who is in his 60s, was a devoted Protestant in Southern California before he started a business in the North.

He is understood to have become an elder of the Full Gospel Church in Los Angeles in the 1990s and later became a pastor, before moving to China and then starting a noodle factory in North Korea while preaching the Gospel there.

According to further sources, he attended Bethel Korean Church in Irvine, California but left there more than a decade ago.

The National Council of Churches in Korea and the Christian Council of Korea said they have yet to get the facts of the case, adding they will make a statement as soon as they get the full picture.

In recent years, several Americans have been detained in North Korea, which deeply distrusts religious activity and sees it as potentially undermining the leadership.

Last August, Aijalon Gomes, a Protestant who had been sentenced to eight years' hard labor for crossing into the North, was released after seven months in detention.

In 2009, another Korean American Protestant missionary, Robert Park, was detained after having entered North Korea on Christmas, and two women journalists were arrested for trespassing into the North.

Gomes was allowed to leave with peace envoy and former US president Jimmy Carter, on a mission to Pyongyang. Carter is planning another visit, reportedly before the end of April, and there is speculation in US media that he may be allowed to bring back Jun as the North government tries to promote a thaw in relations with the US.

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