North Korea Says Detained 2 South Korean 'Spies'

03/26/2015 10:54 pm ET | Updated May 27, 2015
ASSOCIATED PRESS

By James Pearson and Jack Kim

SEOUL, March 27 (Reuters) - South Korea demanded the immediate release on Friday of two of its citizens being held in North Korea on accusations spying.

Late on Thursday, the North's official KCNA news agency showed images of two middle-aged men it identified as Kim Kuk Gi and Choe Chun Gil speaking at a news conference in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

It said the two men were South Korean nationals working as spies for Seoul's National Intelligence Service from the Chinese border city of Dandong.

"They zealously took part in the anti-DPRK smear campaign of the U.S. imperialists and the puppet group of traitors to isolate and blockade the DPRK in (the) international arena," the agency said, using North Korea's official DPRK acronym for Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles ties with the North, confirmed the two men are citizens of the South but declined to comment on their backgrounds.

A ministry official told a media briefing on Friday their detention was "deeply regrettable" and demanded their immediate return to South Korea.

"Everything is groundless," an official with South Korea's National Intelligence Service told Reuters.

North Korean state media accused one of the men of running a China-based "underground church" and illegally spreading foreign information on USB sticks and SD memory cards in the country.

Dandong is home to many ethnic Korean Chinese traders who deal with both North and South Korean businessmen. It is also home to South Korean and Christian missionaries from the West trying to operate in North Korea.

The KCNA article did not say how or where the two men had been arrested.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she was aware of the reports of the arrests, but lacked details and would have to look into the matter.

North Korea has held South Korean missionary Kim Jeong-wook since October 2013 on allegations of espionage, despite pleas from Seoul to release him. He was given a life sentence of hard labor.

In February, a South Korean-born Canadian pastor went missing during a humanitarian mission in the North and his church said earlier this month he was being detained there.

Last year, a Canadian Christian couple who worked with North Korean refugees and ran a coffee shop in Dandong were accused of espionage by the Chinese government.

Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae was released last year after being sentenced by the North Korean government on charges of trying to bring down the state. (Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Tony Munroe, Paul Tait and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Related on HuffPost:

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 20, 2014 photo, a North Korean man stands in front of a row of homes in the town of Kimchaek, in North Korea's North Hamgyong province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 20, 2014 photo, an exclamation point punctuates a long propaganda slogan in a field in North Korea's North Hamgyong province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 19, 2014 photo, residents of a small roadside town walk towards the main road in North Korea's North Hamgyong. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 19, 2014 photo, a North Korean man pushes his bicycle to a village in North Korea's North Hamgyong province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this Monday, June 16, 2014 photo, North Korean men ride in a farmer's wagon in North Korea's South Hamgyong province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 20, 2014 photo, North Korean people rest next to the railroad tracks in a town in North Korea's North Hamgyong province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this Saturday, June 21, 2014 photo North Koreans walk in front of an apartment building in North Korea's South Hamgyong province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 21, 2014 photo a monument of a fist holding a bayonetted Kalashnikov rifle stands on a roadside in North Korea's South Hamgyong province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 20, 2014 photo, exhaust fumes, like fog, spills out of the long Hamgwan Tunnel near Hamhung in North Korea's South Hamgyong province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 15, 2014 photo, an apartment block stands behind hotel room curtains on the main street in Hamhung, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 15, 2014 photo, the remains of lunch sits on a restaurant table in the city of Wonsan, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 14, 2014 photo, portraits of the late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are illuminated on a building side as the sun rises over Pyongyang. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 16, 2014 photo, statues of animals playing musical instruments stand along the roadside south of Samsu, North Korea in Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this Monday, June 16, 2014 photo, walks with a pink umbrella along the roadside south of Samsu, North Korea in Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 16, 2014 photo, farmers walk in a rainstorm with their cattle near the town of Hyesan, North Korea in Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 16, 2014 photo, boys play soccer in the town of Hyesan in North Korea's Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 16, 2014 photo, North Korean men share a picnic lunch and North Korean-brewed and bottled Taedonggang beer along the road in North Korea's North Hwanghae province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 16, 2014 photo, a fishing boat crosses the Samsu reservoir near the town of Samsu in North Korea's Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 17, 2014 photo, a deer's hoof used as a door handle, hangs from the front door of the home where North Koreans say the late leader Kim Jong Il was born around Mount Paektu in North Korea's Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 17, 2014 photo, a North Korean man holds a hand drawn map of the areas around Mt. Paektu as he and colleagues drive in Samjiyon in North Korea's Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 17, 2014 photo, a North Korean man sits by a cooking fire he built to roast potatoes and chicken in the town of Samjiyon, in North Korea's Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 17, 2014 photo, a North Korean man takes shelter in the rain next to long propaganda billboards in the town of Samjiyon in North Korea's Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 18, 2014 photo, the Associated Press vehicle climbs the slopes of Mount Paektu in North Korea's in North Korea's Ryanggang province. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In June 18, 2014 photo, a boulder lies on a path near the peak of Mount Paektu in North Korea's Ryanggang province. North Koreans venerate Mount Paektu for its natural beauty, but more importantly because it is considered the home of the North Korean revolution. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 19, 2014 photo, smoke stacks of a factories stand behind a compound wall along a street in the city of Chongjin, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this Thursday, June 19, 2014 photo, North Korean women sit in their small food stalls in front of apartment blocks on the outskirts of Chongjin, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 19, 2014 photo, a hotel employee walks in the lobby of a hotel that accommodates foreign visitors in Chongjin, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 21, 2014 photo, a row of bicycles are parked next to the sea Wonsan, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 21, 2014 photo, a group of young North Koreans enjoys a picnic on the beach in Wonsan, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this June 21, 2014 photo, a man works on his car as others sit next to the sea Wonsan, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
Suggest a correction