SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea says it has discussed the issue of a Canadian detainee with the Swedish ambassador in the country.
Hyeon Soo Lim, a pastor with the Light Korean Presbyterian Church of Mississauga, Ont., was sentenced last December by a North Korean court to life in prison with hard labour for what it called crimes against the state.
Canada, like many countries, does not have an embassy in North Korea, and has advised against all travel there.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency says a North Korean Foreign Ministry official met with the Swedish ambassador on Thursday for talks on consular access for Lim.
No further details were given, including what the North Korean official, identified as the director general of the ministry’s European Department 2, said about Lim.
Lim’s family said it was grateful to everyone involved in efforts to bring Lim home.
“We would like to extend our particular gratitude to the Swedish officials for their ongoing support and work in aiding our government on behalf of our family,” the family told The Canadian Press in a statement.
“We hope to see him home soon.”
The Swedish ambassador also used Thursday’s meeting as a chance to raise the issue of consular affairs for at least two American detainees being held for alleged espionage, subversion and other anti-state activities.
The news agency says the Pyongyang official reiterated a position that North Korea will handle the issues of detained Americans in line with a wartime law.
It has not elaborated on what the wartime law means, although analysts say that suggests North Korea could deal with U.S. detainees in a harsher manner.
Korean-American Kim Tong Chol is serving a 10-year prison term with hard labour, while University of Virginia undergraduate Otto Warmbier received 15 years.
Lim, who is in his sixties, has been held since February 2015.
He was convicted by Pyongyang’s Supreme Court for allegedly trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system and helping U.S. and South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens.
Lim’s relatives have said the pastor, who is in his 60s, travelled in January 2015 on a regular humanitarian mission to North Korea.
They said Lim has made more than 100 trips to North Korea since 1997 and that his trips were about helping people and were not political.
Lim started the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga nearly three decades ago, shortly after he immigrated from South Korea.
He grew the congregation from about a dozen people in 1986 to more than 3,000 members a family spokeswoman has said. He also runs a smaller church in downtown Toronto that caters to young people.
North Korea is often accused by other governments of using foreign detainees as a way to win concessions from other countries. Pyongyang is locked in a long-running standoff with Washington and other countries over its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
—with files from The Canadian Press