Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt failed to secure the release of a Korean-American held in North Korea during a controversial trip that ended on Thursday.
Richardson told a media briefing at Beijing’s airport he was unable to meet Korean-American Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old tourist who was detained late last year and has been charged with unspecified crimes against the state.
Richardson said he was told that judicial proceedings against Bae would start soon, although he gave no details. North Korean authorities assured him of Bae’s good health, he said.
“That is encouraging,” Richardson said of Bae’s condition, adding he was also given permission to “proceed with a letter from his son, and that will happen shortly”.
It was unclear if Richardson had left such a letter with North Korean authorities or if it would be sent later. Bae is being held in a location far from Pyongyang, Richardson said.
Google Executive Eric Schmidt said his visit to Pyongyang was private and was to talk about a free and open Internet. “The technology in North Korea is very limited,” Schmidt said, with a 3G cellphone network for about a million phones run by Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding SAE that does not support the Internet.
Access to the Internet is available to the government, the military and to universities but not the general public and users are supervised, he said.
“The government has to do something. They have to make it possible for people to use the Internet”, he said. “They showed up and listened to us and asked us a lot of questions…. It’s their choice now, and time, in my view, for them to start or they will remain behind.”