The State Department says the Swedish Embassy in North Korea has visited detained American missionary Kenneth Bae at a labor camp.
Spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday this week’s visit was the 12th by Swedish representatives since Kenneth Bae was arrested in November 2012. As a result of his missionary and humanitarian work, he is serving 15 years of hard labor for alleged “hostile acts against North Korea”.
Sweden handles consular cases for the U.S. because Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. He’s one of three Americans now held.
Harf gave no update on Bae’s condition but said the department spoke to Bae’s family after Monday’s visit. His family says he has diabetes, heart and liver problems.
Bae recently told a pro-North Korean newspaper his health was worsening and he felt abandoned by the U.S. government.
Chul Hwan Kang arrived in South Korea in 1992, having survived detention in living hell, serving in the labor camp for political prisoners called “Yoduk” from the age of 9 to 19 — for the sole reason that his grandfather was accused of criticizing the North Korean regime.
Kang recounts his experience as a young person in the camps stating that children would spend the day beginning at 6 o’clock in the morning working hard manual labor. The failure to accomplish the work quota may result in reduced food rations.
At age 17, he was less than 150 centimeters tall (5 feet) and weighed about 40 kilograms (88 pounds). In fact, Kang’s size was characteristic of all detained children, whose growth was universally retarded by continuous malnutrition and brutality.
Girls were no taller than 145 centimeters by their late teens. With unkempt hair and lacking the nutrition critical to adolescent development, they did not look like girls, forced to become part of an androgynous and anonymous prison population.
“Escape from Camp 14” is a book about Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in a North Korean slave labor camp and lived to escape.
Competition for food in the camp was so intense that a child was beaten to death for having stolen five kernels of corn.
Shin viewed his mother merely as a competitor for food. He had experienced no love from her and so, when he betrayed her for trying to escape–an act that resulted in the execution of his mother and brother, which he witnessed–Shin felt no remorse until he escaped and came to the West.
The work was backbreaking and people like Shin accepted that their lives would be brief and painful–and full of hunger.
The book brings out that the North Korean leadership developed a theory based on bloodlines that contributes to keeping North Koreans in submision. According to this thinking, Shin deserved to be a slave laborer because he had a bad bloodline–i.e., his father had been deemed insufficiently loyal to the regime.
Shin’s escape came about almost as happenstance. He met another prisoner in solitary confinement who had been a government official, and who was desperate to escape to China, a country of which Shin was ignorant. When the time came, the older man was electrocuted and Shin walked over his body to freedom.
[The abovementioned book, “Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West”, is written by Blaine Hardin, a former Washington Post reporter]