North Korea has said it arrested an American student on a charge of committing an unspecified "hostile act." If confirmed, he would be the third Western citizen known to be held by the reclusive state.
North Korea's state-run news agency KCNA on Friday identified the man arrested as a university student from the US state of Virginia. The US Embassy in Seoul said it was aware of the reported arrest.
KCNA identified the student as Otto Frederick Warmbier and said he had entered the North as a tourist and was "caught committing a hostile act" against the DPRK, the official acronym for North Korea.
Pyongyang claimed the student had links to the US government.
Warmbier is an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, according to the university's website.
Gareth Johnson of China-based Young Pioneer Tours confirmed that Warmbier was on one of its tours and said he had been detained in North Korea on January 2.
"We are in touch with Otto's family, the US State Department and the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang and doing all we can to secure his release," Johnson told Reuters. Sweden represents US interests in North Korea.
Earlier this month, the American broadcaster CNN reported that North Korea had detained another US citizen on suspicion of spying.
Last year, a South Korean-born Canadian pastor arrested inside North Korea was sentenced to life in jail by Pyongyang.
On January 6, North Korea staged a nuclear test, prompting widespread international disquiet.
South Korea's President Park Geun-hye on Friday said it was time to look for "diverse, creative" ways to resolve nuclear-fueled tensions, such as a five-nation meeting without North Korea.
So-called six-nation talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear program in return for humanitarian aid for impoverished North Koreans have stalled since December 2008.
Since then, Pyongyang had conducted three nuclear tests, including the latest in early January.
The six countries involved in the negotiations are: the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
The 1950-53 war on the divided Korean peninsula ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, and both countries maintain watch over a demilitarized zone that separates them. About 28,500 American troops are also stationed in South Korea.
ipj/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)