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Seoul Urges Pyongyang to Free South Korean

Kenneth Bae, second from left, who had been held in North Korea since 2012, is greeted after arriving at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Nov. 8, 2014.

Seoul has welcomed North Korea freeing two Americans and is calling for Pyongyang to release a South Korean citizen being detained in the North.

South Korean missionary Kim Jung-wook has been held in the North more than a year and Pyongyang has denied Seoul’s repeated calls for his release.

“We ask [Pyongyang to] promptly release and repatriate Kim and respond proactively to resolving humanitarian issues between the two Koreas, such as the resumption of separated family reunions,” said South Korean Foreign ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il, who spoke with reporters late Sunday.

Kim was arrested more than a year ago and sentenced to a life sentence of hard labor on charges of attempting to overthrow the North Korean regime and spying for South Korea’s intelligence agency.

At a February news conference in Pyongyang, Kim said he took money from the South Korean intelligence agency and appealed to the North Korean regime for his freedom. It is not known if he was speaking freely, but others who have been held in the North have later said they were told what to say during media appearances.

The South Korean government denied the allegation of the intelligence agency’s involvement.

Before his arrest, Kim reportedly ran shelters for defectors in Dandong, a Chinese city bordering North Korea, and helped the defectors flee to South Korea.

In a surprising move last week, Pyongyang freed Americans Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, after a visit by a senior U.S. intelligence official.

A South Korean official, who did not want to be named, told VOA Pyongyang was trying to reach out to Washington for dialogue. Another official said Pyongyang’s move might be an attempt to undermine a unified international response to the North’s human rights record.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with VOA's Korean Service.