Kenneth Bae, 45, has been held for more than a year in North Korea
after being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for trying to
overthrow the state. From last summer until January 20, he had been
kept at Friendship Hospital in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital,
his family said.
"The Department of State has learned that the DPRK transferred Mr.
Bae from a hospital to a labor camp, a development with which we are
deeply concerned," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
"We also remain gravely concerned about Mr. Bae's health, and we
continue to urge DPRK authorities to grant Mr Bae special amnesty
and immediate release on humanitarian grounds," she said, referring
to North Korea by the acronym of its official name, the Democratic
People's Republic of Korea.
Psaki said Swedish Embassy representatives had met Bae 10 times
since his detention, most recently on Friday in a labor camp.
"We continue to work actively to secure Mr. Bae's release," Psaki
said, adding that Washington remained prepared to send its human
rights envoy for North Korea, Robert King, to Pyongyang for that
North Korea has rejected this offer in the past and withdrew an
invitation for King to visit Pyongyang last August.
Bae said in an interview with a pro-North Korea newspaper published
in Japan that a Swedish Embassy official had visited him on Friday
and told him King would visit as early as Monday and by the end of
the month at the latest.
The United States had offered to send civil rights activist Jessie
Jackson but North Korea has instead approved the visit by King, Bae
said in the interview with the Choson Sinbo newspaper issued on
Friday. It did not have further details on King or Jackson's plans.
A State Department official said Bae was moved back to the labor
camp on January 20.
Bae's sister, Terri Chung, told Reuters Bae had been held in a labor
camp from May 14 last year until August 5, when he was moved to the
She said the family did not know where the camp was, except that it
was far from Pyongyang and Bae was working eight hours a day, six
days a week.
Chung said her brother suffered from a variety of health issues,
including diabetes, an enlarged heart, kidney stones and severe back
"We are very concerned about his health," she said.
[to top of second column]
Bae, a Korean American, last appeared in public at Pyongyang
Friendship Hospital on January 20 when he was paraded in front of a
group of reporters and asked Washington to help him get home.
Bae's media appearance was his second since his arrest in 2012 when
he led a tour group into the country. North Korea's state KCNA news
agency reported Bae himself had asked to hold the news conference.
Bae has acknowledged being a missionary and has said he conducted
religious services in the North, one of the most isolated states on
earth and long hostile to Westerners advocating religious causes.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama offered prayers for Bae and U.S.
prisoners held in other countries during remarks at an annual prayer
breakfast that highlighted his Christian faith.
"His family wants him home. And the United States will continue to
do everything in our power to secure his release," Obama said.
On Tuesday, the last surviving members of the U.S. Congress to have
served in the Korean War sent a letter to North Korean leader Kim
Jong-un asking him to release Bae.
North Korea in December released 85-year-old Korean War veteran
Merrill E. Newman, a former U.S. special forces soldier who had been
held since October after visiting the country as a tourist, and the
members of Congress applauded that in the letter seeking Bae's
The letter, signed by Democratic Representative Charles Rangel from
New York, Democratic Representative John Conyers Jr. from Michigan,
Republican Representative Sam Johnson from Texas and Republican
Representative Howard Coble from North Carolina, is not seen as
having nearly as much influence on the North Korean leaders as a
possible visit from a U.S. envoy.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Alex Dobuzinskis; additional
reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul; editing by Eric Beech and Robert Birsel)
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