N. Korea says it’s holding tourist from U.S. for unspecified violations

At least three U.S. citizens currently detained in country

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TOKYO — North Korea said Friday that it has detained an American tourist for unspecified violations, marking the latest in a string of legal problems and arrests for those visiting the authoritarian nation.

In a two-sentence statement, the North’s state-run news agency said a U.S. citizen it identified as Jeffrey Edward Fowle had entered the country April 29 and acted “contrary to the purpose of tourism.”

“A relevant organ of the DPRK detained him and is investigating him,” the North said, using the initials of the country’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

North Korea did not elaborate on the alleged violations, but his detention raises further concerns about those traveling to the North, even as a part of sanctioned tour groups. In a travel warning updated in May the U.S. State Department strongly advised against visiting the North, warning of arbitrary arrests, long-term detention and punishment or expulsion for “activities that would not be considered criminal outside North Korea.”

“Do not assume that joining a group tour or use of a tour guide will prevent your arrest or detention by North Korean authorities,” the State Department said.

At least three U.S. citizens are currently detained in the North, including Kenneth Bae, a Christian missionary who was sentenced last year to 15 years of hard labor on charges of trying to overthrow the government. Another American, Matthew Todd Miller, was taken into custody two months ago after tearing up his visa and declaring that he was ‘not a tourist,'” New Jersey-based Uri Tours said in a statement on its Web site.

Since 2009 North Korea has held at least nine U.S. citizens, at times using them as bargaining chips to extract high-profile rescue visits from former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.