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American Detained in N. Korea Makes Fresh Appeal for US Help

  • VOA News

Detained Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae has made a fresh appeal to the United States to work for his release from a North Korean labor camp.

Bae's comments come after Pyongyang for the second time in recent weeks withdrew an invitation for a senior American envoy to visit and discuss Bae's release.

In an interview released Tuesday by the Chosun Sinbo newspaper, Bae said his poor health makes it hard to work the required eight hours a day at the labor camp.

"I think it is very difficult to continuously work here in the longer term, as I still have a lot of pain in my back and legs. Therefore, if it is delayed again, I might likely have to get long-term treatment in a hospital. I hope that my issue gets tied up as soon as possible so that I can return to the arms of my loving family," said Bae.

The interview was conducted Friday by the Japan-based pro-North Korean newspaper, which was able to visit Bae along with a Swedish Embassy official.

Bae expressed hope about the planned visit of Robert King, the U.S. Special Envoy for Human Rights Issues. His comments came just days before the North cancelled the visit, prompting rebukes from the U.S.

White House spokesman Jay Carney on Monday said the U.S. was "deeply disappointed" by the move. He cautioned Pyongyang against linking Bae's case with upcoming U.S.-South Korea military exercises.

"We remind the D.P.R.K. that the U.S.-R.O.K. military exercises are transparent, regularly scheduled and defense-oriented. These exercises are in no way linked to Mr. Bae's case, and we believe they know that," said Carney.

The State Department said it also supports efforts by U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson to help win Bae's release. It said Jackson has offered to travel to North Korea at the request of Bae's family.

Also Monday, North Korea received a different American delegation.

A group led by Donald Gregg, a former U.S. ambassador to Seoul, arrived in Pyongyang Monday at the invitation of the North Korean Foreign Ministry. Lynn Turk, another former U.S. diplomat, who held talks in Pyongyang in the 1990s, said they were there "to build bridges" between their countries. Neither Turk nor Gregg mentioned Bae.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit South Korea later this week; issues concerning Pyongyang are likely to dominate the talks.

On Friday, the U.S. State Department said the 45-year-old Bae has been transferred from a hospital to a labor camp.

North Korea arrested Bae in late 2012 and later sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor on charges of trying to overthrow the government.

Calls for his release on humanitarian grounds have gone unanswered.

Bae was born in South Korea and emigrated to the United States with his parents and sister in 1985. He was living in China as a Christian missionary for about seven years before his arrest.

Within the last few years, he began leading small tour groups, mostly of American and Canadian citizens, into a "special economic zone" designed to encourage commerce in northeastern North Korea.