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U.S. rights activist crosses into North Korea: reports

By Jon Herskovitz

SEOUL (Reuters) - A U.S. human rights activist trying to raise global attention about the suffering of the North Korean people has crossed into the reclusive state, other activists and South Korean media said on Saturday.

There has been no comment from North Korea, which usually arrests foreign border crossers on site, or from U.S. officials.

Activists told Reuters that Robert Park, 28, had crossed into North Korea from China on Friday, while South Korea's Yonhap news agency and the Kukmin Ilbo newspaper quoted activists who went with him to the border as saying he had crossed at a sparsely patrolled point near the northeast border city of Hoeryong.

Park was quoted by activists who went with the border as shouting when he went across: "I am an American citizen. I am bringing God's love. God loves you."

The activists asked not to be named due to security concerns.

Park told to Reuters in Seoul earlier this week that he saw it as his duty as a Christian to make the journey and did not want the U.S. government to try to free him.

"I don't want President Obama to come and pay to get me out. But I want the North Korean people to be free," Park said on Wednesday before departing for China.

"Until the concentration camps are liberated, I do not want to come out. If I have to die with them, I will. (For) these innocent men, women and children, as Christians, we need to take the cross for them. The cross means that we sacrifice our lives for the redemption of others," he said.

Western governments and human rights activists say North Korea maintains a network of political prisons to crush the possibility of dissent where brutality is the norm and deaths are commonplace.

The North uses unlawful and arbitrary killings and stages public executions to intimidate the masses, critics say. They say it prevents free speech, controls all media and crushes nascent attempts at reform by executing or imprisoning those who oppose the state.

Park, a Korean-American, has joined various campaigns calling on North Korea to improve its rights record and said he would carry a message calling for leader Kim Jong-il to step down, the closure of prison camps and compensation paid to victims.

Park said he wanted to be arrested in order to pressure governments including the United States, South Korea and Japan to address the suffering of the North Korean people.

"Through the media and through sacrifice we are looking for the global leaders to be forced to give an account. There is no excuse," he said.

Earlier this year, former U.S. President Bill Clinton made a high-profile journey to North Korea to win the release of two U.S. journalists who were held by the state for about four months for suspected illegal entry.

The journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, of U.S. media outlet Current TV, were arrested in March working on a story near the border between North Korea and China.

The two said they crossed into the North by accident and were taken into custody in China by North Korean guards who chased them back across the border.

(Additional reporting by Cho Mee-young and Lee Jae-won; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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