US sends envoy to N. Korea to seek citizen's release
WASHINGTON - The United States is to send a senior envoy to North Korea to seek the release of an ailing American citizen imprisoned there since November, the State Department said Tuesday.
"At the invitation of the DPRK government, Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues Ambassador Robert King will travel to Pyongyang on August 30 on a humanitarian mission focused on securing the release of US citizen Kenneth Bae," a statement said.
Bae, a Korean-American tour operator whose Korean name is Pae Jun-Ho, was arrested in November as he entered the northeastern port city of Rason.
North Korea sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor on charges of trying to topple Kim Jong-Un's regime.
"As the US government has on a number of occasions since the April 30 verdict, Ambassador King will request the DPRK pardon Mr. Bae and grant him special amnesty on humanitarian grounds so that he can be reunited with his family and seek medical treatment," the State Department said.
The hardline communist state, which strictly bans religious proselytizing, said Bae was a Christian evangelist who brought in "inflammatory" material.
Bae's sister Terri Chung said in August that her brother has lost more than 50 pounds (23 kilograms) and has problems with his kidneys and liver.
North Korea has in the past freed detained Americans after visits from high-level emissaries such as presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
But Chosun Sinbo, a newspaper that usually speaks for North Korea, said in July that Pyongyang would only release Bae if Washington makes policy changes.
Bae was arrested at a time of high tension between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang's aggressive nuclear program.