TOKYO/SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae, imprisoned in reclusive North Korea for more than a year, said on Monday he wants to return to his family as soon as possible and hopes the United States will help, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported.
The appeal came after North Korea signaled last week it was prepared to reach out to South Korea if it abandoned military drills with the United States that start next month and as Pyongyang appeared to embark on a charm offensive.
Bae, a 45-year old ethnic Korean, was jailed for 15 years of hard labor for state subversion in North Korea, where he was detained in 2012 while leading a tour group.
North Korea’s Supreme Court said he used his tourism business to form groups aimed at overthrowing the government.
Bae met “a limited number of media outlets” in the North Korean capital Pyongyang and expressed hope of the United States securing his release, Kyodo said. He admitted he had broken North Korean laws.
Footage released by Kyodo showed Bae in a drab grey prison uniform and baseball cap as he was escorted into the brief press conference.
The footage was less than a minute long (here)
and Bae appeared to be in reasonable health before he was escorted out by uniformed North Korean officials.
It was not immediately clear why the North Korean authorities allowed the press conference, Bae’s second media appearance since he was jailed.
An attempt to secure Bae’s release by a U.S. emissary was called off by Pyongyang in August and there has been no official contact between the United States and North Korea since then.
Bae is believed to be in ill-health and led missionary groups into North Korea, according to speeches he made that were posted on the Internet.
North Korea said Bae was plotting to overthrow the state and that his crimes deserved the death penalty.
On one of his trips, Bae recalled singing hymns together with his mission tourists at a beach surrounded by North Koreans.
Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Writing by Nick Macfie and David Chance