U.S. prisoner in N. Korea grows sickerSEATTLE - An American man detained in North Korea for the past nine months has been hospitalized after losing more than 50 pounds (22 kilograms), and the need to bring him home is becoming more urgent, his sister said Sunday.
Kenneth Bae, a 45-year-old tour operator and Christian missionary, was arrested in November and accused of subversive activities against the government. He was sentenced in May to 15 years hard labor, and in letters to his family in the Seattle area he described working in the fields weeding and planting beans and potatoes.
Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, said Sunday the family recently learned that he has been transferred from the labor camp to a hospital. Her brother suffers from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and back pain, she said.
“He’s considerably weaker,” Chung said. “There’s more urgency than ever to bring him home.”
A deputy ambassador from Sweden met with Bae at the hospital Friday, Chung said. Sweden represents American interests in North Korea because the U.S. has no official diplomatic relations with the country.
North Korea, analysts say, has previously used detained Americans as bargaining chips in a standoff with the United States, which has long pressed Pyongyang to abandon a nuclear program estimated to have a handful of crude atomic weapons.
Although there have been some tentative recent signs of diplomacy, tensions are still high on the Korean Peninsula after an April and March that saw Pyongyang unleash a torrent of warlike threats at Washington and Seoul in response to tightened UN sanctions over a February nuclear test by the North.
Bae’s recent letters to his family urged them to take a more prominent role in advocating for his release, and on Saturday night they held a prayer vigil at a Seattle church to publicize his case. Bae’s son has started an online petition calling for his freedom.