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Pyongyang says its envoys were ‘mugged’ in New York airport

June 19,2017
North Korea claimed that U.S. government officials recently “mugged” some of its nationals at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and seized a diplomatic pouch, warning that if Washington fails to give an explanation for the incident and an apology, it will be “totally responsible for all the consequences.”

The North made the accusation Sunday in a statement issued by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was reported by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

David Lapan, spokesman of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, admitted that its officers seized “multiple media items and packages from three North Koreans” but said they were not accredited members of North Korea’s mission to the UN, and therefore had no diplomatic immunity, according to the AP.

Lapan reportedly did not explain why the items were taken.

According to the KCNA report, a North Korean delegation was on its way home from the Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the UN via Kennedy Airport on Friday.

A group of more than 20 people, including Homeland Security Department officials and police officers, “made a violent assault like gangsters” to confiscate the diplomatic bag from North Korean diplomats, according to the KCNA report. The diplomats were allegedly in possession of a valid diplomatic courier certificate.

The diplomats resisted, but the U.S. officials grabbed the diplomatic bag “using physical violence,” said the North, calling it an “illegal and heinous act of provocation.”

“This mugging act of the U.S. serves as a graphic account telling the world how reckless and despicable the U.S. hostile policy towards the DPRK has become,” North Korea said, using the acronym for its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The U.S. owes the DPRK a good explanation of its act of infringement upon the sovereignty of the DPRK and an official apology on behalf of the U.S. government.”

The regime urged international society to “seriously consider” whether New York, where “such an outrageous mugging is rampant,” is fit to serve as the venue for international meetings.

Lapan told the AP on Sunday that the reported aggression was initiated by the North Koreans, and that the individuals were released without further incident. They refused to board their departing flight without the items that had been seized.

The U.S. Department of State defines a diplomatic pouch as any properly identified and sealed package, pouch, envelope, bag or other container that is used to transport official correspondence, documents and other articles intended for official use between embassies, legations, consular posts and the foreign office of any government.

Among the department’s several rules of identification of such bags are that they must be addressed to or from the sending government’s ministry or department of foreign affairs, its embassies, legations, consular offices or the headquarters or offices of an international organization.

The latest brouhaha between Washington and Pyongyang came days after Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old American college student, was released from North Korea in a coma after 17 months of detention on charges of subversion.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]