US media interviews with Americans held in North Korea may signal opening

Air time for 3 detained Americans may signal attempt to reopen dialogue with Washington

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 September, 2014, 10:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 September, 2014, 10:55pm

Three American citizens detained in North Korea have appealed to the US government for help returning home, speaking in rare interviews with US media that were set up by the North Korean government and may signal an attempt by Pyongyang to reopen a long-stalled dialogue.

The three men, one serving a 15-year sentence and two awaiting trial, spoke to CNN and the Associated Press on Monday.

The men said they were being treated humanely but asked the US government to get more actively involved in their situation.

Responding to the interviews, the US government urged Pyongyang to release the men.

"Out of humanitarian concern for Jeffrey Fowle, Matthew Miller, and their families, we request the DPRK release them so they may return home," said the State Department. "We also request the DPRK pardon Kenneth Bae and grant him special amnesty and immediate release so he may reunite with his family and seek medical care."

Bae, a Christian missionary and tour operator who was arrested 18 months ago and sentenced to hard labour, said his time was split between hospital and a labour camp. "I ask the US government and people out there to really put in effort to send somebody, to make it work."

The White House said it was doing everything it could to secure the release of the three, but did not say if the appeal might change Washington's approach.

The interviews suggest that North Korea is looking for a way to reopen a long-stalled dialogue with Washington.

CNN reporter Will Ripley said North Korean authorities ferried his crew - in Pyongyang to cover a wrestling match - to a hotel, disclosing who it would be interviewing at the last moment.

Bae said his health was failing and he was working eight hours a day, six days a week. Sentenced on charges of attempting to bring down the state, he said he was the only inmate at a prison camp staffed by more than 20 officials.

Miller and Fowle said they were being treated well.

"My situation is very urgent," said Miller, 24, from California, arrested in April when he ripped up his tourist visa and said he was seeking asylum.

"Very soon I am going to trial, and I (will) directly be sent to prison," Miller said. He declined to comment on why he wanted to seek asylum in North Korea.

Fowle, a middle-aged man from Ohio, said he was being treated well: "I hope and pray that it continues, while I'm here, two more days or two more decades." He was arrested in May after he left a Bible under a bin in the toilet of a sailor's club in the northeastern city of Chongjin.