Google head and former US governor in North Korea visit

TV crews and photographers were waiting when Bill Richardson and Eric Schmidt landed

Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and Google chairman Eric Schmidt are in North Korea on a visit described as unhelpful by the US government.

Speaking in Beijing before flying to Pyongyang, Mr Richardson said the visit was "a private humanitarian mission".

He said he planned to raise the case of a US citizen detained in North Korea.

The former governor has visited North Korea several times in the past, most recently in December 2010.

On two occasions he helped secure the release of detained US nationals. After his most recent visit he said Pyongyang had agreed to re-open its nuclear facilities to UN inspectors, but this did not transpire.

The detained US national is Korean-American Kenneth Bae, who was arrested in November in circumstances that are not clear. North Korea has in the past released detained Americans after high-profile US visits.

Google, meanwhile, has not commented on Mr Schmidt's trip.

"This is not a Google trip, but I'm sure he's interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect. So this is why we are teamed up on this," Mr Richardson said.

"We'll meet with North Korean political leaders. We'll meet with North Korean economic leaders, military. We'll visit some universities. We don't control the visit. They will let us know what the schedule is when we get there," he said.

In a new year's speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said science and technology would be a key goal in 2013 to help improve the country's economy.

Internet use is highly restricted in North Korea, where few people have access to a computer and most users can only access a national intranet rather than the world wide web.

The visit comes less than a month after North Korea put a satellite into orbit using a three-stage rocket - a move condemned by the US as a banned test of long-range missile technology.

"We don't think the timing of this is particularly helpful," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said late last week.

Mr Richardson said the delegation was expecting to be in Pyongyang for two and a half days.

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