North Korea allowed the mother of Kenneth Bae to visit her ailing son almost a year after the American tour operator and missionary was detained and sentenced to 15 years hard labor for “hostile acts.”
Myunghee Bae saw her son at a hospital in Pyongang where he’s being treated for various ailments, Kyodo news service reported, citing comments by Bae. His health didn’t look “that bad,” she told Kyodo.
Kenneth Bae was arrested while on a tour in a northeastern North Korean city in November 2012, and sentenced after a trial on April 30, further straining relations between the U.S. and the Kim Jong Un regime. The North has periodically detained Americans, sometimes seeking to barter their release for concessions from the U.S.
In a video posted to the family’s website before she left her home in Seattle, Myunghee Bae said her heart was “broken into pieces” when she saw a prison interview with her son from July. “He looked so different and he lost so much weight,” she said in the video. “I could not believe that prisoner was my son.”
Bae first worked in the fields at a labor camp until two months ago, when he was hospitalized for health reasons, his mother said in the video.
The U.S. doesn’t have diplomatic relations with North Korea, complicating efforts to work for Bae’s release. In August, Robert King, the State Department’s special envoy on North Korean human rights, was due to travel to North Korea to seek Bae’s freedom in what would have been the first visit by a U.S. official in more than two years. North Korea withdrew the invitation at the last minute.
“We remain gravely concerned about Mr. Bae’s health and we continue to urge the DPRK authorities to grant Mr. Bae special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” Nolan Barkhouse, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, said by phone.
North and South Korea remain divided along one of the world’s most fortified borders 60 years after the Korean War ended in a stalemate. Tensions on the peninsula have heightened since February, when North Korea tested its third nuclear device and then threatened first strikes against the U.S. and South Korea over United Nations sanctions imposed after the Feb. 12 blast.
The U.S. maintains more than 28,000 troops in South Korea to defend against possible attacks from the North.