A fourth US citizen has been detained in North Korea, as he prepared to leave the country after working for several weeks at the Pyongyang University for Science and Technology, which trains the children of North Korea’s elite and which numbers Christians on its staff.

The North Korean state-run news agency KCNA said that “a relevant institution of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] detained American citizen Kim Hak Song on May 6 under a law of the DPRK on a charge of his hostile acts against it” and “He had ran (sic) business at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST).”

KCNA went on “A relevant institution is now conducting a detailed investigation into his crimes.”

Today, Monday, PUST Chancelor and co-founder Chan Mo-Park said that Kim Hak Song (known as Jin Xuesong in Chinese) “had been in N. Korea to do agricultural development work with PUST’s experimental farm”. However, PUST said his arrest was ‘nothing to do with’ that work.

Reuters reported that “a message by Kim Hak Song in February 2015 on the website of a Korean-Brazilian church in Sao Paulo said he was a Christian missionary planning to start an experimental farm at PUST and was trying to help the North Korean people learn to become self-sufficient”.

The arrest of Kim Hak Song comes two weeks after another Korean-American, Tony Kim (also known as Kim Sang-duk) was also detained as he was also leaving the country. His arrest was also reported to be unconnected to his teaching at PUST, but with his work with orphanages. Last week North Korean authorities broke their silence on Tony Kim’s detention, accusing him of “committing criminal acts of hostility” against the country’s government.

(In December 2015, a Canadian, Hyeun-soo Lim, was sentenced to life imprisonment on charges which included conspiring to overthrow the government after he’d made over a hundred trips to North Korea – which included humanitarian aid to orphanages)

The two other Americans still held by North Korea include a then- 21 year old student Otto Warmbier, now apparently doing 15 years’ hard labour following his “confession” to stealing a piece of political propaganda during a trip, apparently at the request of his church in Wyoming, Ohio.

The other is 63-year old Kim Dong Chul from Virginia, serving ten years’ hard labour from April 2016. He admitted to CNN in January 2016 (in the presence of North Korean officials) that he had been spying for South Korea, for which he’d been arrested in October 2015. CNN said it was impossible to tell whether he spoke “under duress”, but shortly after, a North Korean defector told Reuters [Chul] was a Christian pastor, whom she’d met in the US in 2007.

In May 2014, North Korea sentenced South Korean pastor Kim Jong-Wook to a life of hard labour. As a missionary, Kim operated from the Chinese border city of Dandong, where he provided shelter, food and other aid to North Korean refugees who crossed the border seeking relief from the famine in their country.

The US State Department it would work with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which represents its interests in N. Korea, on Kim Hak Song’s case.

This latest arrest comes at a difficult time in US – N. Korean diplomacy, after President Trump said he’s sent a warship to the Korean peninsula. The latest twist is that North Korea accused the US and South Korean intelligence agencies on 5 May of plotting to kill Kim Jong Un using “biochemical substances.”

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry called the agencies “hotbed of evils in the world” and said that they had “hatched a vicious plot to hurt the supreme leadership.”

Its statement said that a citizen, identified only as Kim, had been paid $290,000 for himself and his “terrorist accomplices” as part of the alleged plot. About one in four of all Koreans are called Kim.

Sources: BBC, KCNA, Reuters