Sen. Lee urges recognition of possible North Korean kidnapping

Photo courtesy of
BYU student David Sneddon served his mission in Seoul, South Korea. Sneddon disappeared in 2004 and is believed to be imprisoned by North Korea and teaching English to government officials. (Kathleen Sneddon)

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, urged President Donald Trump to consider the North Korean government may have been involved in BYU student David Sneddon’s 2004 disappearance in a letter Monday.

The letter was sent in the wake of Virginia University student Otto Warmbier’s death last week following his release from North Korean imprisonment. It was intended to draw Trump’s attention to the Sneddon case as he meets this weekend with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Sneddon, a returned missionary from the South Korea Seoul Mission, was studying Asian Languages at BYU and had his eyes set on law school when he went missing in China almost 13 years ago. A South Korean organization that specializes in North Korean abductions reported last year Sneddon was kidnapped by North Korea and is now being held to teach English to government officials, Lee wrote.

While drawing special attention to the Sneddon disappearance, Lee wanted to educate Trump about the issue of kidnappings at large by operatives of North Korea, wrote Lee’s communications director Conn Carroll in an email.

“Senator Lee would like to see the U.S. government take seriously the case of David Sneddon and to continue to have State Department officials take David’s case into account when evaluating negotiations with North Korea, China and other integral actors in the region,” Carroll said in the email.

Mark Peterson, associate professor of Asian and near eastern languages at BYU, said the North Koreans have a long history of kidnappings — one of the reasons for the country’s shaky relationship with Japan.

The country also has a rocky past and a strained present relationship with the United States over issues like nuclear weaponry and democracy. But Trump’s meeting with Moon could result in a joint effort to negotiate with North Korea.

“My hope is that Trump will follow Moon’s lead,” Peterson said. “My hope is that Trump will say, ‘Moon, you’re the man on the scene. You know what’s going on. It’s your backyard. I shouldn’t be playing with my toys in your backyard. I’ll follow your lead.'”

Peterson said he anticipates Moon will be ready to change previous policy regarding relations with North Korea to a more positive and open approach. This could mean, at best, exchanging diplomats with North Korea in the future or even convincing the country to give up its nuclear weaponry.

Roy and Kathleen Sneddon, of Providence, Utah, said they hope Trump can affect the greater good in North Korea by working with South Korea.

“We feel very strongly that North Korean people suffer so much,” Kathleen said. “And if any good comes out of David missing, I would hope the world could be aware of how oppressive North Korea is.”

The couple is currently working to see Senate Resolution 92 pass out of committee in the Senate. The resolution, identical to one passed last year, urges the State Department and intelligence community to investigate every possible explanation for David Sneddon’s disappearance — including kidnapping by North Korean operatives.

“It would be pleasing to me if the government would acknowledge David is missing in North Korea. That would be a great boost,” Kathleen said. “If President Trump reads some of the material and looks it over and says, ‘Oh there is a strong possibility he could be there,’ that would be such a major step because we’ve never had any government official publicly admit that circumstantial evidence points that he could be there.”

The Sneddons said they won’t give up hope that their son will return home safely.

“Answers typically come in the Lord’s timeframe and not necessarily the timeframe that you and I might prefer,” Roy said. “We understand that part of it clearly.”

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