(This December 15 story deletes reference in second paragraph to Lim being only Western citizen known to be held currently in North Korea)
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Diplomats from Canada this week paid a rare visit to North Korea and were able to see a Canadian pastor serving a life sentence for subversion, a foreign ministry official said on Thursday.
Hyeon Soo Lim, who served at one of Canada’s largest churches, was sentenced to hard labour for life in December 2015 for what North Korea says was an attempt to overthrow the regime.
Chantal Gagnon, a spokeswoman for Canadian Foreign Minister Stephane Dion, confirmed a report by North Korea’s KCNA news agency that said the diplomats visited the country from Tuesday until Thursday and saw Lim.
“We are still very concerned about his health, well-being and continued detention and are working actively to secure his release,” she said. Gagnon declined to give details of Lim’s health.
Canada established diplomatic relations with Pyongyang in 2001 but froze them in 2010. Ottawa now says it will only talk to North Korea about regional security, human rights and consular cases.
No one from Lim’s church was immediately available for comment.
The church has said Lim visited North Korea more than 100 times since 1997 and helped set up an orphanage and nursing home.
In January, Lim told CNN he spends eight hours a day digging holes at a labour camp where he has not seen any other prisoners.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by James Dalgleish