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Thursday, June 27, 2019, 13:59
Australia seeks clarification of reports man detained in DPRK
By Reuters
Thursday, June 27, 2019, 13:59 By Reuters

This photo of Alek Sigley is taken from his official Twitter account.

SYDNEY — Australia's foreign affairs department said on Thursday it was seeking urgent clarification of media reports that an Australian man who was reported missing by friends had been detained in the Democratic People Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The department did not identify the man because of privacy concerns but media from both Australia and the Republic of Korea (ROK ) identified him as Alek Sigley, a 29-year-old university student in Pyongyang, the capital of DPRK.

Sigley has written several articles for international media organizations about his time in the DPRK, which he describes in positive language

"The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing consular assistance ... to the family of an Australian man who has been reported as being detained in North Korea," a spokesman said in a statement. The ROK is also referred to as South Korea and DPRK as North Korea.

"The department is urgently seeking clarification," he said.

A source familiar with the situation said the man had been reported missing by friends.

DPRK’s mission to the United Nations did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

READ MORE: DPRK urges ROK to stop mediating between DPRK, US

The treatment of foreign citizens, most usually from the United States, by the secretive of the DPRK has been a contentious issue over the years. Some have been held as prisoners for extended periods.

The death of American student Otto Warmbier in 2017 after he was detained in the DPRK for 17 months sparked a long period of tension between Washington and Pyongyang, with the two countries even trading threats of war.

Warmbier was detained in 2016 and sentenced to 15 years of forced labor for trying to steal a propaganda poster in his hotel. He was returned to the United States in a coma and died soon after.

The United States imposed a ban on its citizens travelling to the DPRK in September 2017, with a few exceptions for humanitarian workers or journalists.

Those tensions were relieved somewhat by an historic meeting between between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore in Singapore a year ago to discuss the nuclear and missiles programs of the DPRK.

ALSO READ: Trump: Pompeo brings 3 freed Americans back from DPRK

Australia, a staunch ally of the United States, does not have a diplomatic presence in DPRK and relies on third-party countries to act on its behalf

The problems remain unresolved, however, after a failed second summit in Hanoi this year.

Australia, a staunch ally of the United States, does not have a diplomatic presence in DPRK and relies on third-party countries to act on its behalf.

Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said limited contact with the DPRK meant securing details about Sigley's whereabouts was difficult.

"Our embassy in South Korea has reached out to relevant officials in North Korea," Cormann told Bloomberg Television.

"There is obviously some complications in providing consular assistance into North Korea. We work through the Swedish government in North Korea and all of these steps are underway," he said.

Sigley said in a blog post earlier this year he is a postgraduate student at Kim Il-sung University and the founder of a travel company that offers tours to the DPRK.

Sigley has written several articles for international media organizations about his time in the DPRK, which he describes in positive language.

He regularly updates his social media accounts but has not posted anything on either Twitter or Instagram for several days.

The incident will likely dominate the agenda of Prime Minister Scott Morrison  when he travels to Japan for the  G20 summit from Friday. Morrison is expected to meet Trump during the trip to discuss, among other things, the DPRK.

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