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American inmate in N. Korea asks for high-level U.S. visit

By Choe Sang-Hun

New York Times

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 06:20 a.m. HST, Aug 13, 2013


SEOUL » An American tour operator imprisoned in North Korea on charges of plotting to harm the Socialist country through Christian missionary activities has appealed to Washington to send a high-ranking official to North Korea to help free him, according to a videotaped interview made public on Tuesday (Monday in Hawaii).

The Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper based in Japan, on Tuesday posted the video footage of tour operator, Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American from Washington state, sitting in a hospital in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, where he was moved from a labor camp a week ago as his health deteriorated.

Bae, 45, had been imprisoned at the camp since May, shortly after he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for what North Korean authorities said were hostile acts against the government. Bae was leading a group of visitors from China into the special economic zone of Rason in northeastern North Korea when he was arrested in November.

North Korean officials accused Bae of being a Christian missionary who flouted the country’s laws on proselytizing. In his interview with The Choson Sinbo, Bae said he had “violated” North Korean laws.

“As an American citizen, I request the U.S. government to make active efforts so I can be pardoned and return home,” he said in the interview, which The Choson Sinbo said took place Friday. “I think that a high-ranking U.S. official should come here and bring me home, and that such an official should come here as a representative of the U.S. government and apologize and make a request of an early pardon for my release.”

It was unclear whether Bae was speaking of his own free will.

North Korea had previously said Bae would not be used as a bargaining chip. But outside analysts said the recent news of his deteriorating health and the letters he was allowed to send to his family in recent weeks, along with another videotaped interview broadcast by The Choson Sinbo and CNN last month, were probably efforts by the North Korean government to force Washington to engage in dialogue.

In the past, the North has used Americans held on criminal charges to bring about visits by prominent U.S. figures seeking their release, like former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — a practice that Washington has wanted to end.

A visit by a high-ranking U.S. government representative would be a significant diplomatic coup for the North Korean government, which has long wanted an official dialogue with the United States. Washington has insisted that there will be no such engagement until the North has shown concrete signs of giving up its nuclear weapons development.

In the video, Bae was also shown being visited by a Swedish diplomat. Washington has no official diplomatic ties with North Korea, and the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang represents U.S. interests in Bae’s case on Washington’s behalf.

Bae appeared gaunt in the video and said his various ailments, including a backache, had worsened during his time in the labor camp.

The State Department has called on the North to grant Bae amnesty and immediate release.






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