Urgent hunt for Aussie in North Korea

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North Korea stoked ire in the USA when college student Otto Warmbier died in 2017 following more than a year of captivity in the Asian country.

The Australian government said Thursday it was "urgently seeking clarification" on reports that an Australian had been detained in North Korea, which the attorney-general described as a "matter of the utmost seriousness."The family of Alek Sigley said they had no confirmation that the 29-year-old Pyongyang university student had been detained".

"Owing to our privacy obligations we will not provide further comment", a DFAT spokesperson added.

Sigley said in a blog post earlier this year he is a postgraduate student at Kim Il Sung University and the founder of a travel company that offers tours to North Korea.

Australia does not have an embassy in North Korea, and has limited diplomatic access through the Swedish Embassy.

He is one of a small body of worldwide students at the university and described himself as "the only Australian living in North Korea" in a piece he wrote in March for Britain's Guardian newspaper.

He says he could be in detention in North Korea, China or be somewhere else such as a hospital. Official media in North Korea haven't mentioned an arrest. We don't even know if he has been detained or not.

It was ground-breaking for Sigley to be accepted by Kim Il-sung University as the first Australian student, he said, because the institution had previously rejected approaches from Petrov to accept Australian students.

He was fluent in Korean.

"There are no captive Americans now held in North Korea and Australia might be the closest thing available so in very crude realpolitik terms you can imagine how that might pan out ahead of a potential third summit".

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"We're going to work with everybody to secure Alek's safety", Mr Morrison said when asked about the president's movements.

"As a long-term foreign resident on a student visa, I have almost unprecedented access to Pyongyang".

Mr Short later told of gruelling daily interrogations and being kept under 24-hour guard, despite repeatedly saying he was not a spy and was not working with any South Korean connections.

The family said it had received no indication he had been detained in North Korea.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison is now in Osaka, Japan where he is due to meet other world leaders at the G20 Summit.

"Our embassy in South Korea has reached out to relevant officials in North Korea", Cormann said.

The most notorious case was that of American student Otto Warmbier who was arrested in 2015 for allegedly attempting to steal a propaganda poster from the hotel he was staying in - possibly as a prank. He was returned to the United States in a coma and died a few days after arriving home in June 2017.

Like his family, Petrov has not been able to confirm where he is.

An Australian national studying in Pyongyang has reportedly been apprehended by North Korean authorities.

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