A Korean-American sentenced to hard labor in a North Korean prison camp has appealed to the U.S. government to secure his release, saying he is in poor health and wants to be reunited with his family.
Kenneth Bae made the emotional appeal from prison as he spoke in Korean in a videotaped interview granted to Japanese newspaper Choson Sinbo, which is sympathetic to Pyongyang. The newspaper published the interview Wednesday and said it was conducted on June 26 with North Korean government approval.
In the interview, Bae appeared with his head shaved and wore a blue prison uniform while sitting in a room next to a radiator. It was the first time he had been seen publicly since being convicted in April of trying to topple the North Korean government and being sent to the camp in May to serve 15 years of hard labor.
North Korea arrested Bae, a tour operator, in its northeastern port of Rason last November.
The Korean-American said he was suffering from health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure and a painful back while performing daily eight-hour shifts of farm work. He also told the pro-North Korean interviewer, however, that he appreciated the medical care he has received from doctors at the camp.
Bae held back tears as he talked about his desire to see his family in the United States and celebrate his father's 70th birthday on July 4. He expressed hope that North Korea will show leniency and the U.S. government will provide help to enable him to be released soon.
The U.S. State Department has urged North Korea to grant Bae amnesty and immediate release. Former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have made private visits to North Korea in recent years to bring home other Americans detained by Pyongyang, but there has been no sign of a similar mission being planned for Bae.