American missionary Kenneth Bae speaks to reporters at Pyongyang Friendship Hospital in Pyongyang on Jan. 20, 2014.
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) - An American missionary 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
The missionary, Kenneth Bae, made the comments at what he
called a 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
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
"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, the longest-serving
American detainee in North Korea in recent years, expressed hope that
the U.S. government will do its best to secure his release. He said he
has not been treated badly in confinement.
A sticking point with
Bae might be that the U.S. government has said he is not guilty of any
crimes. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said last month that Bae is being
held without reason, which Pyongyang denies. Bae on Monday made an
apology and said he had committed anti-government acts. He said recent
comments in the media from the U.S. side - likely alluding to Biden's
remarks - have made his situation more complicated.
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.
appearance came weeks after North Korea freed an elderly American
veteran of the Korean War who had been held for weeks for alleged crimes
during the 1950-53 war.
State media said 85-year-old Merrill
Newman was released because he apologized for his wrongdoing and that
authorities also considered his age and medical condition. Newman said
after his release that a videotaped confession was given involuntarily
and under duress, although he was generally treated well.
Korea has detained at least seven Americans since 2009. They were
eventually deported or released without serving out their terms, some
after prominent Americans such as former presidents Bill Clinton and
Jimmy Carter traveled to Pyongyang.
A senior U.S. envoy had
planned to visit North Korea in late August to discuss Bae's release,
but Pyongyang withdrew its invitation at the last minute, accusing the
United States of hostility. Analysts said North Korea was apparently
trying to gain leverage in a long-running international standoff over
its nuclear weapons program.
"We shouldn't take Kenneth Bae's
comments merely as his own," said Kim Jin Moo, a North Korea expert at
the 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."
"Bae's comments are an appeal to Washington to actively persuade Pyongyang to release him," Kim said.
foreign analysts say North Korea wants better ties with Seoul and
Washington as a way to win foreign aid and investment to boost its
Earlier this month, Bae's detention was in the
news after former basketball star Dennis Rodman traveled to Pyongyang
with other retired NBA players for an exhibition game marking the
birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. In an interview with CNN
while in Pyongyang, Rodman made comments implying Bae was at fault.
Rodman, who has been criticized for not using his ties with Kim to help secure Bae's freedom, later apologized.
was born in South Korea and immigrated to the United States in 1985
with his parents and sister. He was allowed to call home on Dec. 29
because of the holidays, according to his sister, Terri Chung. That was
the first time his three children from an earlier marriage had spoken to
him, she said. He has two children in Arizona and another in Hawaii,
ages 17, 22 and 23, Chung said.
Before his arrest, Bae lived in
China for seven years with his wife and stepdaughter. He ran a tour
business and led 18 trips to North Korea, Chung said.
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