Australian missionary, 75, detained in N. Korea

SYDNEY - A 75-year-old Australian missionary has been detained in North Korea for allegedly distributing religious material, a report said on Wednesday citing his wife.

John Short was arrested by Pyongyang's public security bureau on Sunday, Karen Short told the Adelaide Advertiser. He reportedly entered the country on Saturday as part of a tour group.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs said they were aware of the case.

"We're Christians and we've been here (in Asia) for 40 years," Karen Short told the newspaper from her home in Hong Kong.

"He's a frontline man - this is what he does. But North Korea is very different, that's why his heart was to go there.

"I'm asking people to pray for him." Since his arrest Short, originally from Adelaide, has faced questioning in Pyongyang about religious pamphlets printed in the Korean language and believed to be in his possession, the report said.

"The government is aware that a 75-year-old Australian man, Mr John Short, is reported to have been detained in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," an Australian foreign affairs spokesman said.

Canberra has no diplomatic presence in North Korea with the Swedish embassy representing its interests.

"We are in close contact with Swedish officials in Pyongyang to seek their assistance in confirming the well-being of Mr Short and to obtain more information," the spokesman added.

North Korea also holds US citizen Kenneth Bae, a tour operator described by a North Korean court as a militant Christian evangelist.

He was arrested in November 2012 and later sentenced to 15 years' hard labour on charges of seeking to topple the government.

Short's detention comes just days after a hard-hitting United Nations report, headed by an Australian, outlined a litany of crimes against humanity in North Korea, including mass murder, enslavement and starvation.

It recommended that North Korea's leaders should be brought before an international court.

North Korea refused to cooperate with the commission, claiming its evidence was "fabricated" by "hostile" forces.