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US to send envoy to DPRK to free missionary

Updated: 2014-01-21 15:35
( Agencies)

US to send envoy to DPRK to free missionary

Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary who has been detained in North Korea for more than a year, appears before a limited number of media outlets in Pyongyang in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 20, 2014. [Photo/Agencies]

SEOUL - The United States has offered to send a special envoy to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to win the release of a jailed missionary, but signalled that any meaningful talks with Pyongyang will require it to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Kenneth Bae, 45, has been held for more than a year by the DPRK, which has convicted him of trying to overthrow the state and sentenced him to 15 years hard labour.

Bae, a Korean American, was paraded in front of a group of foreign and local reporters on Monday and asked Washington to help him get home, the DPRK's state news agency and foreign media based in Pyongyang reported.

"We hope this decision by the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) authorities to allow Kenneth Bae to meet with reporters signals their willingness to release him," a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We have offered to send Ambassador King to Pyongyang to secure Mr. Bae's release," the official added, referring to US North Korean rights envoy Robert King.

"We have asked the North Koreans this, and await their early response," the official added.

An attempt by King to secure Bae's release last August was rejected by Pyongyang.

It was not immediately clear why the DPRK authorities had allowed the event at Pyongyang Friendship Hospital, Bae's second media appearance since his arrest in 2012 when he led a tour group into the country.

The DPRK's state KCNA news agency reported Bae himself had asked to hold the press conference.

Bae's sister in the United States said in a statement that while her brother appeared in decent health during the news conference, he was "distressed" and likely "worn down physically and emotionally" after 15 months of imprisonment.

Terri Chung, who lives in the Seattle area, also apologized to the DPRK, pleading for her brother's release and for US officials to step up clemency efforts on his behalf.

"We understand that Kenneth has been convicted of crimes under DPRK laws. Our family sincerely apologizes on Kenneth's behalf," Chung said, adding: "We humbly ask for your mercy to release my brother."

Bae's son Jonathan urged Washington to respond to the plea.

His father's words "obviously mean that Washington has not done enough", Bae told Reuters by phone. "We need to send someone over and bring him home. That's what it's going to take. He needs to come home," he said.

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