SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea says it is expelling American Bruce Byron Lowrance after he slipped unlawfully into the police state known for its anti-U.S. fervor.
He is believed to be the same person who was deported by South Korea a year ago after being caught wandering near the mine-strewn border with North Korea, looking for a way to cross over.
Sneaking into North Korea has proved to be a powerful temptation for some Americans. Some were driven by religious zeal, others simply were attracted by the mystery of a remote and cloistered country that seems the polar opposite of anything they had experienced.
A look at some of the Americans who have entered North Korea in past decades:
BRUCE BYRON LOWRANCE
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Lowrance was detained last month after he entered illegally from the border with China. While it said he entered under the “manipulation” of the CIA, many detained foreigners have said after their release from North Korea that their declarations of guilt were coerced.
North Korea’s decision to deport Lowrance after only a month of confinement would be remarkably quick by Pyongyang’s standards, apparently reflecting an eagerness to keep alive a positive atmosphere for dialogue with the United States.
Washington and Pyongyang have been engaging in talks on the North’s nuclear program since a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in June, when they issued vague aspirational goals for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
In November last year, South Korea said a man matching Lowrance’s name was caught in an area just south of the Demilitarized Zone without approval. The man later told South Korean investigators that he believed his trip to North Korea would resolve tensions between Washington and Pyongyang over the death of Otto Warmbier, an American university student who died last year days after being released from the North in a coma.
Lowrance was arrested in South Korea on the same day a North Korean soldier made a dramatic escape to the South, rushing across the border under a barrage of bullets fired by his former comrades.
While the majority of Americans detained by North Korea have been released in relatively good condition, Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, died in June last year shortly after he was flown home comatose after 17 months in captivity.
Warmbier was seized from a tour group while visiting North Korea in January 2016 and convicted on charges of trying to steal a propaganda poster and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. North Korea has denied accusations by relatives that it tortured Warmbier and said he was provided “medical treatments and care with all sincerity.” The North accused the United States of a smear campaign and called itself the “biggest victim” in his death.
In September 2014 North Korea sentenced Miller — then a 24-year-old from Bakersfield, California — to six years of hard labor on charges he illegally entered the country to commit espionage.
North Korea’s Supreme Court said Miller tore up his tourist visa at Pyongyang’s airport upon arrival in April that year and admitted to the “wild ambition” of experiencing prison life so that he could secretly investigate North Korea’s human rights situation.
Miller was freed in November that year along with another American, Kenneth Bae, a missionary and tour leader.
Weeks before his release, Miller spoke briefly to The Associated Press at a Pyongyang hotel where the North Korean government allowed him to call his family. He said he was digging in fields eight hours a day and being kept in isolation.
Bae, from Lynnwood, Washington, was detained in November 2012 while leading a tour group in North Korea. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for “hostile acts” after being accused of smuggling in inflammatory literature and trying to establish a base for anti-government activities at a border city hotel.
While in detention, he told a pro-North Korea newspaper based in Japan that he felt abandoned. His family said he suffered from chronic health issues, including back pain, diabetes, an enlarged heart and liver problems.
Bae went home in November 2014 after a secret mission by the U.S. intelligence chief at the time, James Clapper, secured his release, as well as that of Miller. A month earlier, North Korea released another U.S. citizen, Jeffrey Fowle, after detaining him for six months for leaving a Bible in a nightclub in the city of Chongjin.
North Korea officially guarantees freedom of religion, but analysts and defectors describe the country as militantly anti-religious. The distribution of Bibles and secret prayer services can mean imprisonment or execution, defectors say.
In 2009, American missionary Robert Park walked into North Korea with a Bible in his hand to draw attention to North Korea’s human rights abuses and to call for the resignation of then leader Kim Jong Il. Park, who was deported from the country in February 2010, has said he was tortured by interrogators.
Charles Jenkins of North Carolina was one of a handful of U.S. soldiers who fled to North Korea during the Cold War and later appeared in North Korean propaganda films.
Jenkins deserted his army post in South Korea in 1965 and fled across the DMZ. In 1980, he married 21-year-old Hitomi Soga, a Japanese nursing student who had been abducted by North Korean agents in 1978.
Soga was allowed to return to Japan in 2002. That was two years before Jenkins was allowed to leave North Korea for Japan, where he surrendered to U.S. military authorities to faced charges that he abandoned his unit and defected to North Korea. He died in Japan in 2017.
Evan Hunziker had reportedly been drinking with a friend in 1996 when he decided to swim naked across the Yalu River between China and North Korea. Hunziker, who was released after three months, had drug, alcohol and legal problems. He was later found dead in Washington state in what was ruled a suicide.
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