American missionary Kenneth Bae, who has been jailed in North Korea for more than a year, appeared before reporters Monday and appealed to the U.S. government to do its best to secure his release.
Wearing a gray cap and inmate’s uniform with the number 103 on his chest, Bae spoke in Korean during the brief appearance, which was attended by The Associated Press and a few other foreign media in Pyongyang. He made an apology and said he had committed anti-government acts.
Bae called the press conference held at his own request. He was under guard during the appearance. It is not unusual for prisoners in North Korea to say after their release that they spoke in similar situations under duress.
Bae, the longest-serving American detainee in North Korea in recent years, expressed hope that the U.S. government will do its best to win his release. He said he had not been treated badly in confinement. “I believe that my problem can be solved by close cooperation and agreement between the American government and the government of this country,” he said.
Bae was arrested in November 2012 while leading a tour group and accused of crimes against the state before being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He was moved to a hospital last summer in poor health.
Bae said a comment last month by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden had made his situation more difficult. “The vice president of United States said that I was detained here without any reason,” Bae said. “And even my younger sister recently told the press that I had not committed any crime and I know that the media reported it.
“I think these comments infuriated the people here enormously. And for this reason, I am in a difficult situation now. As a result, although I was in medical treatment in the hospital for five months until now, it seems I should return to prison. And moreover there is greater difficulty in discussions about my amnesty.”
North Korea freed an elderly American veteran of the Korean War, 85-year-old Merrill Newman, who had been held for weeks for alleged crimes during the 1950-53 conflict. North Korean state media said he was released because he apologized for his wrongdoing and that authorities also considered his age and medical condition.
“We shouldn’t take Kenneth Bae’s comments merely as his own,” said Kim Jin Moo, a North Korea expert at the South Korean state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. “The reason why North Korea had Kenneth Bae make this statement … is that they want Washington to reach out to them.”