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Originally published Monday, December 31, 2012 at 5:50 PM

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Focus on North Korea’s detention of Lynnwood man

Kenneth Bae, 44, of Lynnwood has been detained in North Korea since November. There’s hope for the tour operator’s release, but officials must deal with the situation diplomatically.

Seattle Times Editorial

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AT this point, little is known about the circumstances of a Lynnwood man’s detention in North Korea, but there’s hope 44-year-old Kenneth Bae might be reunited with his family.

U.S. officials must continue working the limited diplomatic channels available to them to find out what really happened after Bae led a group of tourists into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in November.

The idea of a Washington citizen languishing in one of the secretive, communist regime’s prisons is disturbing. Tensions surrounding North Korea were already high after the country launched a satellite into orbit Dec. 12, signaling its intent to move forward with a missile program.

According to The New York Times, analysts believe it’s possible Bae’s detention could bolster the totalitarian state’s efforts to halt sanctions for its recent actions.

Without an official presence in Pyongyang, U.S. State Department officials say the Swedish embassy is intervening on their behalf to monitor Bae’s health and to seek due process.

On Dec. 21, North Korean officials said they charged Bae with committing “hostile acts against the republic.” They claimed he confessed to a crime that could mean years of imprisonment. The report of a confession should be viewed with skepticism.

South Korean news outlets said the arrest may have been triggered by a computer hard disk that contained sensitive information and was found among the group’s possessions. The leader of a South Korean humanitarian organization said Bae may have taken photographs of orphans.

Curiously, the European tourists in the group were released while Bae was detained. Other accounts suggest Bae may have been proselytizing in a country that frowns on organized religion. Bae’s family in the Lynnwood area has not commented.

There is reason for hope. The four Americans who had been detained in North Korea since 2009 all were freed. Three were released following high-profile visits from former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

The State Department should continue its work in the Bae case, and Washington’s congressional delegation must ensure the department’s work does not stop.

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