SEOUL — U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae, imprisoned in North Korea for more than a year, said Monday that he wants to return to his family as soon as possible and hopes the United States will help.
It was not clear why the North Korean authorities allowed the news conference, but the appeal came after the North signaled last week that it was prepared to reach out to South Korea if it abandoned military drills with the United States scheduled to start next month.
Bae, a 45-year-old ethnic Korean, was arrested in November 2012 while leading a tour group in North Korea and accused of crimes against the state before being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He was moved to a hospital last summer because of poor health.
Bae made the comments at what he called a news conference held at his 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. It was Bae’s second appearance before the news media since his arrest.
Bae spoke in Korean during the brief appearance, which was attended by the Associated Press and a few other foreign media outlets in Pyongyang.
Bae, the longest-serving American detainee in North Korea in recent years, expressed hope that the U.S. government will do its best to win his release.
“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.
In August, Pyongyang called off an attempt by a U.S. emissary to secure Bae’s release, and there has been no official contact between the United States and North Korea since then.
State Department officials said Monday that the United States continues to urge the North to grant Bae amnesty and release him immediately.
“As we have said before, we remain very concerned about Kenneth Bae’s health,” said Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the department. “We continue to work actively to secure Mr. Bae’s release, including through regular, close consultation with the Swedish Embassy.”
The United States, which does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, is represented in the reclusive country by Sweden.