U.S. checking reports of relocation of three American detainees in North Korea: official

U.S. checking reports of relocation of three American detainees in North Korea: official
U.S. checking reports of relocation of three American detainees in North Korea: official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government is looking into news reports that three Americans detained in North Korea have been relocated from a labor camp to a hotel near Pyongyang ahead of a planned summit between President Donald and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no immediate confirmation of any change in the detainees' status. administration officials have pressed for their release as a show of goodwill by North Korea before the unprecedented U.S.-North Korea summit expected in late May or early June.

Earlier on Wednesday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a South Korean activist as saying North Korea had relocated the three Americans from a labor camp to a hotel on the outskirts of Pyongyang. Yonhap said Choi Sung-yong, head of a group for families of South Koreans abducted by North Korea, cited a resident in Pyongyang as saying Kim Hak-song, Tony Kim and Kim Dong-chul were moved in early April following instructions from superior authorities.

"We cannot confirm the validity of these reports," a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said.

"The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State. We are working to see U.S. citizens who are detained in North Korea come home as soon as possible," she said.

Randall Brandt, a spokesman for Tony Kim’s family, said in an email: “While we are encouraged by overall momentum, the family has no indication of a release and has had no contact with Tony since Ambassador Yun last June."

He was referring to Joseph Yun, the State Department's former North Korea negotiator, who saw the detainees on a visit to Pyongyang last year.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom in Washington and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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