KYODO / Reuters file
Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary who has been detained in North Korea for more than a year, gives a statement to media in Pyongyang on Jan. 20.
An American citizen who has been held in North Korea for 15 months has been returned to a labor camp, the State Department said Friday.
Kenneth Bae, who led tour groups in the secretive East Asian nation, was arrested in late 2012 and sentenced to 15 years hard labor for unspecified hostiles acts. Meanwhile, pleas for his release on humanitarian grounds have fallen on deaf ears.
Bae was taken to a hospital last summer after his health rapidly deteriorated. But his sister, Terri Chung of Edmonds, Wash., told The Associated Press her family learned from the State Department that bae was taken back to a labor camp Jan. 20 — the same day Bae appeared in front of journalists in the capital of Pyongyang.
"He's back to eight-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week hard labor," she told the wire service. "We can't help but be concerned about that."
In a statement Friday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. remains "gravely concerned about Mr. Bae's health, and we continue to urge DPRK authorities to grant Mr. Bae special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds."
Psaki added that State continues "to work actively to secure Mr. Bae's release."
She added that the U.S. is prepared to dispatch Robert R. King, the special envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues — an ambassadorial position — to North Korea in support of Bae's release.
— Catherine Chomiak and Daniel Arkin
First published February 7 2014, 3:10 PM