North Korea says not to free U.S. citizens until former detainee stops 'babbling'

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea will not negotiate with the United States over two American citizens it is holding until former detainee Kenneth Bae stops publicly talking about his time in prison, state media said on Monday.

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. REUTERS/KCNA/File photo

Criticized over its human rights record for years, North Korea has made use of detained Americans in the past to extract high-profile visits from the United States, with which it has no formal diplomatic relations.

North Korea arrested Bae, a U.S. missionary, in November 2012 and sentenced him to 15 years’ hard labor for crimes against the state.

He was released two years later and has written an account of his detention in a memoir released in May. Since then, Bae has spoken about his experiences at several public appearances and given interviews to promote the book.

During his detention, Bae said, he realized he had become a “negotiating tool” for the North Koreans, some of whom he described as “brainwashed” in a recent interview in South Korea with a defector-run group that broadcasts into the North.

For translated version of Bae's interview with Unification Media Group, please click

“As long as Kenneth Bae continues his babbling, we will not proceed with any compromise or negotiations with the United States on the subject of American criminals, and there will certainly not be any such thing as humanitarian action,” the North’s KCNA news agency said.

“If Bae continues, U.S. criminals held in our country will be in the pitiful state of never being able to set foot in their homeland once again”.

Pyongyang is holding two U.S. citizens, both of whom it has tried and sentenced to hard labor.

In March, Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old student of the University of Virginia, was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor for trying to steal a propaganda banner bearing the name of former leader Kim Jong Il.

In April, a North Korean court convicted Korean-American missionary Kim Dong Chul of crimes against the state and sentenced him to 10 years’ hard labor.

Last year, Canadian missionary Hyeon Soo Lim was sentenced to hard labor for life for subversion of the state.

The United States and Canada both strongly advise citizens not to travel to North Korea. This May, the U.S. State Department said Americans who traveled there despite the warnings risked “unduly harsh sentences”.

(This story has been refiled to fix story link)

Additional reporting by Jee Heun Kahng; Editing by Clarence Fernandez