N. Korea powerful temptation for some Americans

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Americans in North Korea - Kenneth Bae - Matthew Miller
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N. Korea powerful temptation for some Americans
Kenneth Bae, center, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, is hugged after arriving Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after they were freed during a top-secret mission. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Kenneth Bae, left, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, hugs his mother Myunghee Bae after arriving, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after they were freed during a top-secret mission by James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Matthew Miller, left, who had been held in North Korea since April, 2014, is greeted after arriving Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after he were freed during a top-secret mission. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Kenneth Bae, right, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, talks to reporters after he arrived Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after he was freed during a top-secret mission. At left is his sister Terri Chung. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
In this image taken from video, U.S. citizen Matthew Todd Miller speaks at an undisclosed location in North Korea Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. Two Americans, Miller and Jeffrey Edward Fowle, charged with “anti-state” crimes in North Korea say in a video that they expect to be tried soon and possibly receive long prison terms, and appeal for help from the U.S. government. They made the comments in the video shot by a local AP Television News crew. The crew was taken to a location to meet the detained Americans after repeated requests to North Korean authorities to see them. (AP Photo/APTN)
Kenneth Bae, right, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, talks to reporters after he arrived Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after he was freed during a top-secret mission. Looking on from left are Bae's brother-in-law Andrew Chung, his mother, Myunghee Bae, and his sister, Terri Chung. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Kenneth Bae, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, smiles as he talks to reporters Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after he was freed during a top-secret mission. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Kenneth Bae, center, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, talks to reporters after he arrived Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after he was freed during a top-secret mission. Looking on from left are Bae's brother-in-law Andrew Chung, his mother, Myunghee Bae, his sister, Terri Chung, and nieces Ella and Caitlin Chung. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Kenneth Bae, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, greets his mother Myunghee Bae after arriving, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after they were freed during a top-secret mission by James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
The Plane carrying Kenneth Bae, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, and Matthew Miller, who had been held since April, 2014, arrives Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after they were freed during a top-secret mission by James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Matthew Miller, top, who had been held in North Korea since April, 2014, walks off the plane after arriving Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after he were freed during a top-secret mission by James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Matthew Miller, center, who had been held in North Korea since April, 2014, is greeted after arriving Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after he were freed during a top-secret mission. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Kenneth Bae, a American tour guide and missionary serving a 15-year sentence, detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
A conservative anti-North Korean activist holds a placard calling for the release of detained US missionary Kenneth Bae following a protest against the North Korean regime, in Seoul on Febraury 16, 2014. Rare talks between the rival Koreas ended on an even rarer note of agreement February 14, allowing an under-threat reunion for divided families to go ahead and fuelling hopes of further constructive engagement. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
What appears to be a United States Air Force passenger jet, right, is parked on the tarmac of Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. The State Department says Jeffrey Fowle, one of three Americans being held in North Korea, has been released. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Fowle was on his was home Tuesday after negotiators left Pyongyang. She said the U.S. is still trying to free Americans Matthew Miller and Kenneth Bae. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
A conservative anti-North Korean activist holds placards calling for the release of detained US missionary Kenneth Bae following a protest against the North Korean regime, in Seoul on Febraury 16, 2014. Rare talks between the rival Koreas ended on an even rarer note of agreement February 14, allowing an under-threat reunion for divided families to go ahead and fuelling hopes of further constructive engagement. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Kenneth Bae, an American tour guide and missionary serving a 15-year sentence, detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
A protester carries a portrait of American missionary Kenneth Bae for an anti-North Korea rally in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, making the anniversary of the birth of North Korea's late leader Kim Jong Il. The protesters called for the release of Bae who has been jailed in North Korea for more than a year. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
American missionary Kenneth Bae speaks to reporters at Pyongyang Friendship Hospital in Pyongyang Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. Bae, 45, who has been jailed in North Korea for more than a year, appealed for the U.S. to do its best to secure his release. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)
FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2014 file photo, American missionary Kenneth Bae, right, leaves after speaking to reporters at Pyongyang Friendship Hospital in Pyongyang. Bae, 45, who has been jailed in North Korea for more than a year, appealed for the U.S. to do its best to secure his release. Bae has been returned to a labor camp, prompting worries about his health, his sister Terri Chung said Friday, Feb. 7. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon, File)
American missionary Kenneth Bae, second from right, arrives to speak to reporters at Pyongyang Friendship Hospital in Pyongyang Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. Bae, 45, who has been jailed in North Korea for more than a year, appealed for the U.S. to do its best to secure his release. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)
Jeffrey Fowle, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Jeffrey Fowle, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Jeffrey Fowle, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
The wife and children of Jeffrey Edward Fowle sit with their attorney, Tim Tepe, center, during a news conference at Tepe's office in Lebanon, Ohio. Fowle has been charged with "anti-state" crimes in North Korea. Fowle's family apologized Tuesday to the communist country and pleaded for its government to show him mercy, saying in a statement they're "desperate for his release and return home." From left are: Fowle's sons, Alex, 13, and Chris, 11; wife Tatyana, 40, and daughter Stephanie, 9. (AP Photo/Amanda Lee Myers)
Tanya Fowle, right, wife of Jeffrey Fowle, listens as attorney Tim Tepe reads a statement from the family, Monday, June 9, 2014, in Lebanon, Ohio. Tepe said that Jeffrey Fowle was on vacation as part of a tour when he was detained in North Korea last week. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
In this image taken from video, U.S. citizen Jeffrey Edward Fowle speaks at an undisclosed location in North Korea Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. Two Americans, Fowle and Matthew Todd Miller, charged with “anti-state” crimes in North Korea say in a video that they expect to be tried soon and possibly receive long prison terms, and appeal for help from the U.S. government. They made the comments in the video shot by a local AP Television News crew. The crew was taken to a location to meet the detained Americans after repeated requests to North Korean authorities to see them. (AP Photo/APTN)
Tanya Fowle, wife of Jeffrey Fowle, leaves the room after attorney Tim Tepe read a statement from the family, Monday, June 9, 2014, in Lebanon, Ohio. Tepe said that Jeffrey Fowle was on vacation as part of a tour when he was detained in North Korea last week. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
Tanya Fowle, right, wife of Jeffrey Fowle, listens as attorney Tim Tepe reads a statement from the family, Monday, June 9, 2014, in Lebanon, Ohio. Tepe said that Jeffrey Fowle was on vacation as part of a tour when he was detained in North Korea last week. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
Mathew Miller, an American detained in North Korea speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Mathew Miller, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Mathew Miller, an American detained in North Korea, waits in a room after speaking to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Mathew Miller, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Mathew Miller, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has given foreign media access to three detained Americans who said they have been able to contact their families and watched by officials as they spoke, called for Washington to send a representative to negotiate for their freedom. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
President Barack Obama, joined by outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, talks about the release of two Americans detained in North Korea, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington after announcing that he will nominate US Attorney Loretta Lynch to replace Holder. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Jeffrey Fowle talks about being detained in North Korea for nearly six weeks, Friday, Oct. 31, 2014 in Lebanon, Ohio. Fowle, sitting in his attorney's office during the interview, was held for nearly six months in North Korea after leaving a Bible at a nightclub. Christian evangelism is considered a crime in North Korea. Fowle was released on Oct. 22, 2014 and returned to Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Skip Peterson)
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By FOSTER KLUG

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - One shouted about God's love as he crossed a frozen river, clutching a Bible. Another swam, drunk and naked. Several U.S. soldiers dashed around land mines.

Time and again, Americans over the years have slipped illegally into poor, deeply suspicious, fervently anti-American North Korea, even as it has become increasingly easy to enter legally as a tourist. It's incomprehensible to many, especially since tens of thousands of desperate North Koreans have crossed in the opposite direction, at great risk.

On Tuesday night, a U.S. citizen apparently tried to swim across a river separating the Koreas, eager to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, local media reported. And on Sunday, a young American who entered legally but then tore up his visa was sentenced to six years of hard labor on charges he illegally entered the country to commit espionage.

Sneaking into autocratic, cloistered North Korea has proven a strange and powerful temptation for some Americans.

Sometimes the spur is deep religious conviction. Sometimes its discontent with America and a belief that things will be different in a country that can seem like its polar opposite. Quite often, analysts say, it's mental or personal problems - or simply a case of a person acting upon a very, very bad idea.

Whatever their reasons, Americans detained in North Korea, including three currently in custody, are major complications for Washington, which must decide whether to let a U.S. citizen languish or to provide Pyongyang with a propaganda victory by sending a senior U.S. envoy to negotiate a release.

In the Cold War, a handful of U.S. soldiers, some of whom knew little about life in the North, fled across the Demilitarized Zone and later appeared in North Korean propaganda films.

Charles Robert Jenkins, of North Carolina, deserted his army post in South Korea in 1965. He was allowed to leave North Korea for Japan in 2004.

Other defector soldiers had problems in their military units or issues with family at home. One was reportedly lured north by a female North Korean agent.

In the decades after the war, some Americans harbored "glamorous notions of North Korea as a socialist paradise," said John Delury, an Asia expert at Yonsei University in Seoul. "But that's just not part of the mix any more. Even in the furthest fringes of American online culture, you don't find that notion."

Mental health issues have often played a part, Delury said.

"It's seen as a forbidden country ... a place that's perceived in the American mind as being locked down," Delury said. "To cross the border, in some ways, could be alluring" to people looking to break social rules.

Evan C. Hunziker had reportedly been drinking with a friend in 1996 when he decided to swim naked across the Yalu River between China and the North. Hunziker, who was released after about three months, had drug, alcohol and legal problems. He was later found dead in Washington state in what was ruled a suicide.

Religion has provided a powerful impulse for some to cross.

North Korea officially guarantees freedom of religion, but outside analysts and defectors describe the country as militantly anti-religious. The distribution of Bibles and secret prayer services can mean imprisonment or execution, defectors have said.

"It is one of the last frontiers to spread the Christian faith, so there are people who would take unimaginable risks" to evangelize there, Delury said.

A Bible in his hand, American missionary Robert Park walked into North Korea on Christmas Day 2009 to draw attention to human rights abuses and to call for the resignation of then-leader Kim Jong Il. Park, who was deported from the country in February 2010, has said he was tortured by interrogators.

In 2011, ex-President Jimmy Carter visited North Korea to win the release of imprisoned American Aijalon Gomes, who had been sentenced to eight years of hard labor for crossing illegally into the North from China.

It was unclear what led Gomes, who had been teaching English in South Korea, to cross. But he may have been emulating Park, said Jo Sung-rae, a South Korean human rights advocate who met with Gomes. Gomes attended rallies in Seoul calling for Park's release before he was arrested.

For North Korea, getting a senior U.S. official or an ex-president to visit is a huge propaganda coup. It allows Pyongyang to plaster its newspapers and TV screens with scenes meant to show its powerful leaders welcoming humbled American dignitaries, said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in South Korea.

Washington has repeatedly offered to send its envoy for North Korean human rights to discuss the currently detained Americans, but Pyongyang has so far balked.

"The North Koreans are in no hurry," Lankov said. "It's a sellers' market. They say, 'This is our price: a senior visit and some concessions. These are our goods, these Americans. If you don't want to pay, that's your problem. We can wait.'"

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AP writers Kim Tong-hyung and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul contributed to this story.

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