THE longest-held American in North Korea since the Korean War is struggling from health problems that have twice put him in a hospital.
Kenneth Bae, a former Lynnwood resident, now faces the possibility of being sent back to a North Korean labor camp, according to a July 31 interview with The Choson Sinbo, a newspaper based in Japan. No one outside of the reclusive North Korean regime understands the exact nature of Bae’s alleged crimes, for which he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
The 46-year-old tour operator has been held since November 2012. In a labor camp video obtained by CNN, Bae said he is trying to remain emotionally strong, but he suffers from chronic diabetes, back and oral problems.
U.S. State Department officials must act urgently to secure this American’s release on humanitarian grounds, whether that means continuing to rely on the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, working diplomatic channels with North Korean officials at the United Nations in New York City or sending a high-level emissary the regime is willing to allow inside its borders.
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On the eve of his 46th birthday on Aug. 1, Bae’s family released a statement with a desperate plea: “Twice Kenneth has been hospitalized due to his health failing after months of strenuous hard labor, eight hours a day, eight days a week. We fear Kenneth’s body will not be able to survive being sent back to labor camp for the third time.”
Columbia University Professor Charles K. Armstrong, an expert on North Korea, says Bae’s situation is unusual, but the Obama administration should remain engaged.
“This can still be solved,” he says. “There has to be pressure on Washington, D.C., to work out an agreement at a higher level to try to get [Bae] out.”
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).