Tokyo (AFP) – Kenneth Bae, the U.S. citizen jailed in North Korea for more than a year, appealed to go home at a brief news conference in Pyongyang Monday, reports said.
The Korean-American admitted to wrongdoing and called on the U.S. government to help secure his release so that he could return to his family “at the earliest possible date”, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said.
There was no way of knowing if Bae, a 45-year-old tour operator also known by his Korean name Pae Jun-Ho, was speaking under duress.
Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old U.S. veteran detained for weeks by North Korea, said after his release that a videotaped confession he made while being held was given involuntarily.
Bae spoke to a small group of media at what was described as a news conference. He was dressed in a grey inmate’s uniform and flanked by two security guards, Kyodo said, adding that the event lasted about three and a half minutes.
Bae was arrested in November 2012 as he entered North Korea’s northeastern port city of Rason. He was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor on charges of seeking to topple the government.
The court described Bae as a militant Christian evangelist who had smuggled subversive material into the country and sought to establish a base in Rason.
While welcoming Newman’s release in December, Vice President Joe Biden said North Korea had “no reason” to hold Bae and demanded his freedom too.
Bae is reported to be suffering serious health problems and to have lost more than 50 pounds since being jailed.
But at Monday’s press event, according to China’s Xinhua news agency, Bae said he was in normal health after five months of treatment in hospital.