By Naeisha Rose
Three North Korean delegates were detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport last Friday and had a diplomatic package seized by U.S. authorities, according to North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The alleged officials were attending a three-day United Nations convention for rights of people with disabilities. They claimed to be “literally mugged” by United States authorities and airport police who made a “violent assault like gangsters” when they were “forcibly taking away the diplomatic package,” the news agency said.
The confrontation comes amid mounting tensions between North Korea and the United States, following a series of nuclear tests by the isolated communist nation this year.
Most recently, University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier was returned from North Korea to his hometown of Cincinnati in a vegetative state last week after being detained for 17 months. Warmbier had allegedly removed a political poster off a wall at the hotel in which he stayed and was sentenced to 15 years at hard labor after a sham trial. Warmbier, who went to North Korea in January 2016 and intended to only stay for five days, died Monday.
In a statement, Pyongyang conveyed outrage over the JFK incident, insisting the three individuals had protections under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which states that items by diplomats “shall not be opened or detained,” while on missions but also have to “contain only diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use.”
The U.S. State Department sees things differently.
“The North Korean citizens were not accredited members of North Korea’s Mission to the UN and had no entitlement to diplomatic immunity. The package in question had no diplomatic protection from inspection,” according to the State Department. “The package in question had no diplomatic protection from inspection.”
The State Department went on to further state that it “seized multiple media items and packages from the individuals, at which time the North Koreans attempted to physically retrieve the items, but were prevented from doing so by [Department of Homeland Security] officers.”
The aggression “was initiated by the North Koreans. The individuals were released without further incident, but subsequently refused to board their departing flight without the items that had been seized,” the State Department said.
A representative for the United Nations could not comment on the altercation because it had received no “formal complaint from the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea],”
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose