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Kenneth Bae, U.S. missionary, moved back to North Korean labor camp

(Reuters) - A U.S. missionary being held in North Korea was moved from a hospital back to a labor camp last month on the same day he made a public appeal for Washington to help get him home, the U.S. State Department said on Friday, citing Swedish diplomats who met the prisoner.

Kenneth Bae, 45, has been held for more than a year in North Korea after being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for trying to overthrow the state. From last summer until January 20, he had been kept at Friendship Hospital in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, his family said.

"The Department of State has learned that the DPRK transferred Mr. Bae from a hospital to a labor camp, a development with which we are deeply concerned," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"We also remain gravely concerned about Mr. Bae's health, and we continue to urge DPRK authorities to grant Mr Bae special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds," she said, referring to North Korea by the acronym of its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Psaki said Swedish Embassy representatives had met Bae 10 times since his detention, most recently on Friday in a labor camp.

"We continue to work actively to secure Mr. Bae's release," Psaki said, adding that Washington remained prepared to send its human rights envoy for North Korea, Robert King, to Pyongyang for that purpose.

North Korea has rejected this offer in the past and withdrew an invitation for King to visit Pyongyang last August.

Bae said in an interview with a pro-North Korea newspaper published in Japan that a Swedish Embassy official had visited him on Friday and told him King would visit as early as Monday and by the end of the month at the latest.

The United States had offered to send civil rights activist Jessie Jackson but North Korea has instead approved the visit by King, Bae said in the interview with the Choson Sinbo newspaper issued on Friday. It did not have further details on King or Jackson's plans.

A State Department official said Bae was moved back to the labor camp on January 20.

Bae's sister, Terri Chung, told Reuters Bae had been held in a labor camp from May 14 last year until August 5, when he was moved to the hospital.

She said the family did not know where the camp was, except that it was far from Pyongyang and Bae was working eight hours a day, six days a week.


Chung said her brother suffered from a variety of health issues, including diabetes, an enlarged heart, kidney stones and severe back pain.

"We are very concerned about his health," she said.

Bae, a Korean American, last appeared in public at Pyongyang Friendship Hospital on January 20 when he was paraded in front of a group of reporters and asked Washington to help him get home.

Bae's media appearance was his second since his arrest in 2012 when he led a tour group into the country. North Korea's state KCNA news agency reported Bae himself had asked to hold the news conference.

Bae has acknowledged being a missionary and has said he conducted religious services in the North, one of the most isolated states on earth and long hostile to Westerners advocating religious causes.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama offered prayers for Bae and U.S. prisoners held in other countries during remarks at an annual prayer breakfast that highlighted his Christian faith.

"His family wants him home. And the United States will continue to do everything in our power to secure his release," Obama said.

On Tuesday, the last surviving members of the U.S. Congress to have served in the Korean War sent a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un asking him to release Bae.

North Korea in December released 85-year-old Korean War veteran Merrill E. Newman, a former U.S. special forces soldier who had been held since October after visiting the country as a tourist, and the members of Congress applauded that in the letter seeking Bae's freedom.

The letter, signed by Democratic Representative Charles Rangel from New York, Democratic Representative John Conyers Jr. from Michigan, Republican Representative Sam Johnson from Texas and Republican Representative Howard Coble from North Carolina, is not seen as having nearly as much influence on the North Korean leaders as a possible visit from a U.S. envoy.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Alex Dobuzinskis; additional reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul; Editing by Eric Beech and Robert Birsel)

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drhwoo February 08 2014 at 11:15 PM

woody allen is a child pecker.

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Walt February 08 2014 at 4:44 PM


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Helen February 08 2014 at 4:10 PM

his struggle will all be done in Jesus name. God Bless him.

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1 reply to Helen's comment
BARRY AND KATHY February 08 2014 at 6:02 PM


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RouteUS66Busload February 08 2014 at 3:53 PM

Worry Not, Jesus Christ will reward Mr. Bae for all eternity, and eternal punish the N. Koreans for such actions.

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BARRY AND KATHY February 08 2014 at 6:04 PM

Right! Nothing like putting your hopes in a vindictive fictional character.

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wilsonslane1 February 08 2014 at 3:27 PM

Send Dennis Rodman...he seems to have influence there.

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**dwerkforce** February 08 2014 at 3:19 PM

If this Mr. Bae had any brains at all, he'd stayed out of this hellhole, regardless of his puposes for entering. That doesn't mean we don't have to try and get him released, so we can get him medical (and perhaps some psychological counseling) support. Then, if found guilty in an international court of justice, of the accusations leveled at him, he must take the consequences.
Now, we know this won't go anywhere, just as some of the int'l actions denied us in the past. Unless we subscribe to real justice, watered-down justice will be served. Amen.

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paintcharmer February 08 2014 at 3:18 PM

I bet that fence in the picture is only 4 feet high.

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sheryl February 08 2014 at 3:11 PM

There you go Rodman,you want to go to Korea.Why don't you go for something meaningful?Maybe you can convince your buddy to let Kenneth Bae home instead of playing basketball.Am I wrong about you?Is that what you have in mind all this time?Helping the U.S.

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dougpeder2000 February 08 2014 at 2:59 PM

Yes, he shouldnt have been there in the first place, but we have all done stupid things. How come more effort is not being put into this situation, to bring him home? That goes for all American detainees that are being held all over the world. I never understand why the U.S. puts up with this.
Im sure there are people held for legitmate reasons, but radical countries like this one are just trying to look powerful. How about all the POW's that are or were forgoten. We walk the streets with our Ipods, drive fancy cars etc. and turn a blind eye.

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paintcharmer February 08 2014 at 2:48 PM

I say blow N. Korea off the face of the earth and that half pint little puppet that runs it. If Russia or China want to get involved so be it let's go. I Can't believe a nation as big as our's won't do anything to this dictator, who hold's American's at will and put's them in jail. And all our presiden't will do is pray at a prayer breakfast for their release. Hell we couldn't even kill Castro. Truman should have let McCauther keep going , there would be no NK. I am really ashamed of our governmen't.

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