Despite ongoing efforts to secure his release, Kenneth Bae, the American missionary being held in North Korea, appears to be no closer to coming home. Since his arrest in November, 2012, concerns for his health have led to calls for his release on humanitarian grounds.
Bae, also known as Pae Jun-Ho, was born in South Korea. He immigrated to the US with his family in 1985. Although he is a resident of Washington, he has, for several years, lived in China working as a Christian missionary. At some point, he began leading small tour groups, mostly of Americans and Canadians into a “special economic zone” intended to encourage commerce in northeastern North Korea.
In November, 2012, Kenneth Bae was arrested as he entered the North Korean city of Rason and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He was moved to a prison camp in May, 2013 to begin serving his sentence. He was assigned to work on a farm raising vegetables and works at least eight hours a day, six days a week.
By August, Bae was having kidney and liver problems and he was admitted to hospital after he lost more than 50 pounds. On January 20, he appeared before reporters in Pyongyang where he confessed to anti-government activities and apologized to North Korea.
He also urged the United States to continue to work for his release saying that he believes cooperation between the United States and North Korea could lead to his release.
Later that day, he was moved back to the prison camp. Again, Kenneth Bae is apparently no closer to coming home although efforts to secure his release are ongoing.
In Washington, DC, a State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said the US continues to urge the North Korean government to grant amnesty to Bae and release him on humanitarian grounds.
A Swedish diplomat also met with Bae in connection to an unconfirmed report that North Korea might be willing to negotiate his release and had invited Robert King, an American diplomat specializing in North Korean affairs, to visit there as early as next week. Because the United States does not have diplomatic ties with North Korea, the Swedish embassy often acts as an intermediary with North Korean authorities.
Psaki did not confirm King’s visit, but she reaffirmed the Obama administration’s longstanding offer to send King to North Korea. Last August, though, North Korea canceled a similar invitation to King without explanation just before he was scheduled to make the trip.
Both the State Department and Vice President Biden have requested Bae’s release. On Thursday, President Obama, speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, said that Bae’s family wants him home and confirmed that the United States will continue to do everything possible to obtain his release.
Calls for his release continue from his family and from American officials including the State Department, Vice President Biden, President Obama, and even the last four Korean veterans still serving in the US Congress. North Korea, however, has not made a definitive move to resolve the situation.
The possibility of a visit from American diplomat, Robert King appears to be the next best hope for some actual progress and perhaps even resolution. In the meantime, Kenneth Bae languishes in a prison work camp, no closer to home.
by Sharon I. Fawley
The Washington Post