PYONGYANG, North Korea – An American missionary who has been jailed in North Korea for more than a year appeared before reporters Monday and appealed to the U.S. government to do its best to secure his release.
The missionary, Kenneth 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.
His statement, approximately four minutes long, was made with him seated against a white wall.
Wearing a gray cap and inmate's uniform with the number 103 on his chest, Bae spoke in Korean during the brief appearance, which was attended by The Associated Press and a few other foreign media in Pyongyang.
"I believe that my problem can be solved by close cooperation and agreement between the American government and the government of this country," he said.
Bae, the longest-serving American detainee in North Korea in recent years, expressed hope that the U.S. government will do its best to secure his release.
He said he has 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 labor. He was moved to a hospital last summer in poor health.
His appearance came weeks after North Korea freed an elderly American veteran of the Korean War who had been held for weeks for alleged crimes during the 1950-53 war.
State media said 85-year-old Merrill Newman was released because he apologized for his wrongdoing and that authorities also considered his age and medical conditions. Newman said after his release that a videotaped confession was given involuntarily and under duress, although he was generally treated well.
North Korea has detained at least seven Americans since 2009. They were eventually deported or released without serving out their terms, some after prominent Americans such as former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter traveled to Pyongyang.
A senior U.S. envoy had planned to visit North Korea in late August to discuss Bae's release, but Pyongyang withdrew its invitation at the last minute, accusing the United States of hostility. Analysts said North Korea was apparently trying to gain leverage in a long-running international standoff over its nuclear weapons program.
"We shouldn't take Kenneth Bae's comments merely as his own," said Kim Jin Moo, a North Korea expert at the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. "The reason why North Korea had Kenneth Bae make this statement ... is that they want Washington to reach out to them."
"Bae's comments are an appeal to Washington to actively persuade Pyongyang to release him," Kim said.