February 8, 2014 in Nation/World

Bae returned to N. Korea work camp

Gene Johnson Associated Press
 

Bae
(Full-size photo)

A U.S. citizen detained in North Korea for 15 months has been returned to a labor camp, prompting worries about his health, his sister said Friday.

Kenneth Bae, who led tour groups in North Korea, was arrested in late 2012 and sentenced to 15 years hard labor for unspecified hostile acts. Calls for his release on humanitarian grounds have gone unanswered. After he lost 50 pounds, he was moved last summer to a hospital from a prison work camp where he had been farming vegetables.

His sister, Terri Chung, of Edmonds, Wash., said her family learned from the U.S. State Department on Friday that Bae was taken back to the labor camp on Jan. 20 – the same day Bae appeared before news reporters in Pyongyang, wearing a prison uniform stamped with the number 103.

“He’s back to eight-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week hard labor,” she said. “We can’t help but be concerned about that.”

The news coincided with the release of a story in a pro-Pyongyang newspaper based in Japan, Choson Sinbo, reporting that a U.S. envoy was expected to visit Bae.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki did not comment directly on the report, and she gave no indication that an invitation had been extended by North Korea. Psaki reiterated that the U.S. has made a long-standing offer to send its envoy on North Korean human-rights issues, Robert King.

In its report, Choson Sinbo said a reporter had interviewed Bae at the prison, and Bae said he had been notified that King could visit as soon as Monday and no later than the end of the month.

Such diplomatic outreach to North Korea is unpredictable, particularly because Washington and Pyongyang do not have formal ties. The North invited King to visit in late August to seek a pardon for Bae, but it withdrew the invite at the last minute, to protest U.S. military exercises. More military drills between the U.S. and South Korea are planned this month.

Psaki voiced deep concern over Bae’s transfer to the labor camp and about his health, and she urged North Korea to grant him amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds.

Bae, a 45-year-old father of three, was born in South Korea and immigrated to the U.S. with his parents and sister in 1985. He had been living in China as a Christian missionary for about seven years before his arrest. Within the last few years, he began leading small tour groups, mostly of American and Canadian citizens, into a “special economic zone” designed to encourage commerce in northeastern North Korea.

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