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Australia says no progress in finding student feared detained in North Korea

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday that Canberra has yet to establish the whereabouts of an Australian man missing in North Korea for several days.

[SYDNEY] Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday that Canberra has yet to establish the whereabouts of an Australian man missing in North Korea for several days.

The family of Alek Sigley said on Thursday they had not heard from the 29-year-old university student in Pyongyang since Tuesday.

Mr Sigley speaks fluent Korean and is one of only a handful of Western students living in the North Korean capital.

Australia's foreign affairs department said on Thursday it was seeking urgent clarification about reports that an Australian had been detained in North Korea.

Australia has no diplomatic presence in North Korea and relies on third-party countries such as Sweden to act on its behalf. Mr Morrison said Australia has been unable to establish what happened to Sigley despite the help of its allies.

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Mr Sigley's disappearance comes at a time of heightened tensions with North Korea and as world leaders gather in Osaka, Japan for a G20 summit.

"We don't have any further information," Mr Morrison told Australia's Channel 9 in Osaka. "It's very concerning, I'm very concerned," he said.

Speaking at the G20 summit, Mr Morrison said he had received "expressions of support and assistance" from other nations which had been "very welcome".

"We will continue to focus very sharply on that and seek to clarify what exactly has occurred and then take steps from there," he told national broadcaster ABC.

Mr Sigley's wife said she had no hint that anything was wrong before his disappearance.

Japanese Yuka Morinaga, 26, told Australia's News Corp that his disappearance was "very concerning" and there was not "anything weird" last time they spoke on Monday.

 

His social media sites - which usually have a stream of apolitical content about everyday life in one of the world's most secretive nations - have fallen silent since Tuesday.

"He is always trying to demystify North Korea unlike the typical Western media. He tries to understand the people there," Ms Morinaga said.

The pair married at an elaborate ceremony in Pyongyang last year. Ms Morinaga is a software developer living in Tokyo and usually communicates with her husband daily via WhatsApp, News Corp said.

 

 

Mr Sigley, from Perth in Western Australia, had been studying Korean literature at Kim Il Sung University for around a year, while running a company specialising in tours of North Korea.

The treatment of foreign citizens, most usually from the United States, by the secretive North Korea has long been a contentious issue. Some have been held as prisoners for years.

The death of American student Otto Warmbier in 2017 after he was detained in North Korea for 17 months sparked a long period of tension between Washington and Pyongyang, with the United States and North Korea even trading threats of war.

Warmbier was detained in 2016 and sentenced to 15 years of forced labour for trying to steal a propaganda poster in his hotel. He was returned to the United States in a coma and died soon after.

The United States imposed a ban on its citizens travelling to North Korea in September 2017, with a few exceptions for humanitarian workers or journalists.

Those tensions were relieved somewhat by an historic meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore a year ago to discuss the North's nuclear and missiles programmes.

The problems remain unresolved, however, after a failed second summit in Hanoi this year.

REUTERS, AFP

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