Jailed missionary Kenneth Bae apologises to North Korea

Washington requests to send special envoy to Pyongyang to secure freedom for Kenneth Bae

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 11:22am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 10:25pm

The supporters of an American missionary held for more than a year in North Korea were both heartbroken and encouraged by a brief news conference in which Kenneth Bae, wearing a grey cap and inmate's uniform with the number 103 on his chest, apologised and said he had committed anti-government acts.

"My brother is not a number to me, or to the rest of his family," his sister Terri Chung of Edmonds, Washington state, said in a statement on Monday. "He is a kind and loving husband, father, son and brother - and needs to be home immediately."

Chung also apologised to North Korea and pleaded for it to release Bae, saying the family is concerned for his health and she could "see that he was distressed."

"Our family sincerely apologises on Kenneth's behalf," she said. "We humbly ask for your mercy to release my brother."

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 duress.

Bae spoke in Korean during the brief appearance, which was attended by members of the foreign media in Pyongyang.

Bae, the longest-serving American detainee in North Korea in recent years, expressed hope that the US government will do its best to win his release. He said he had not been treated badly in confinement.

Bae was arrested in November 2012 while leading a tour group and accused of crimes against the state before being sentenced to 15 years of hard labour. He was moved to a hospital last summer in poor health.

He made an apology on Monday and said he had committed anti-government acts.

Bae said a comment last month by US Vice-President Joe Biden had made his situation more difficult.

"The vice-president of the United States said that I was detained here without any reason," Bae said.

"And even my younger sister recently told the press that I had not committed any crime and I know that the media reported it.

"I think these comments infuriated the people here enormously. And for this reason, I am in a difficult situation now. As a result, although I was in medical treatment in the hospital for five months until now, it seems I should return to prison. And moreover there is greater difficulty in discussions about my amnesty," Bae said.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Monday that Washington was willing to send special envoy Robert King to secure Bae's release.

"We have asked the North Koreans this, and await their early response," the official added.

An attempt by King to secure Bae's release last August was rejected by Pyongyang.

Additional reporting by Reuters