SEATTLE – An ailing American who has been detained in North Korea for 11 months has had an emotional reunion with his mother for the first time since he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, the family said Friday.
Myunghee Bae was allowed into North Korea to see her son, Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary, at a hospital where he has been held since August.
Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, of Edmonds, Wash., said Friday she had not yet spoken with her mother, but did hear from the Swedish ambassador in Pyongyang, who attended the visit. Photographs of the reunion depicted Bae, wearing vertical stripes of blue and white, embracing his mother and holding her hand.
“He said it was a very emotional meeting, that they had a reunion and that Kenneth did look better from when he was hospitalized on Aug. 9,” Chung said.
A report by a Japan-based media outlet affiliated with North Korea, the Choson Sinbo, said Kenneth Bae and his mother met for 90 minutes. As soon as she entered the room, she hugged Bae and wept.
Bae, a 45-year-old tour operator and Christian missionary, was arrested last November while leading a group of tourists in the northeastern region of Rason. The government accused him of subversive acts.
He was transferred over the summer from a prison camp, where he largely farmed vegetables, to the hospital because he had lost more than 50 pounds. He also suffers from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and back pain, his family has said.
The ambassador reported that Bae has regained about 15 pounds since being hospitalized, Chung said.
Though comforting, the visit did not necessarily give the family any greater hope that Bae might soon be freed: “We can only hope,” Chung said.
Bae is a U.S. citizen but had been living in China for the past seven years.