BEIJING – Jailed American Kenneth Bae has spoken out about the harsh conditions at the labor camp where he is being held North Korea, telling a Swedish diplomat that he is in great pain and wishes to be back with his family.
"I think it is very difficult to continuously work here in the longer term, as I still have a lot of pain in my back and legs,” Bae said in an interview that was released Tuesday by the North Korean-friendly newspaper, Choson Sinbo. “I hope that my issue gets tied up as soon as possible so that I can return to the arms of my loving family."
Bae, 45, has been held by DPRK authorities since November 2012 after he led a group of European tourists into the city of Rason. The Korean-American was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in April last year after being convicted of “hostile acts” against the state.
Until now, American officials have been flummoxed in their attempts to free Bae. A reported second scheduled trip this week by American Ambassador Robert King to secure Bae’s release was scuttled by North Korea after it refused to issue a visa. Meanwhile, Reverend Jesse Jackson, at the request of Bae’s family, has also offered to travel to North Korea to secure his release.
However, Bae was returned back to his prison camp on January 20th. In his Friday interview with Swedish authorities – with no formal American diplomatic presence in North Korea, Sweden represents the United States on consular issues there – he remained upbeat but spoke of the lingering health problems he endures.
“I’ve been working with my hands a lot,” Bae told the Swedish representative. “My hands all got numb and sore I have some cuts.”
First published February 11 2014, 5:21 AM
Ed Flanagan is a Beijing-based producer for NBC News. He has been part of the NBC News team in China since 2005 and has covered the region -- from North Korea to Japan as well.
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