North Korea withdrew its invitation to a US envoy who was headed to Pyongyang to request the release of imprisoned, ailing US missionary Kenneth Bae, the US Department of State said on Friday.
North Korea canceled talks with Robert King, the US special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, who was expected to visit Pyongyang on Friday and yesterday.
“We are surprised and disappointed by North Korea’s decision,” US Department of State spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
“We remain gravely concerned about Mr. Bae’s health and we continue to urge the DPRK authorities to grant Mr. Bae special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” the spokeswoman said in a written statement, referring to the North by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
There was no immediate explanation for the decision from North Korea, which does not have diplomatic relations with Washington.
King’s trip, announced this week as he was visiting US allies Japan and South Korea, was seen as a potential signal of the start of a gradual thaw in relations between Washington and Pyongyang.
The US Department of State had termed the trip a “humanitarian mission” and played down any connection between Bae’s release and diplomacy over the North’s sanctioned nuclear weapons program.
HOPE AND FAITH
Bae’s sister in Washington state issued a statement saying their family was disappointed and worried about Kenneth Bae’s health, but are “not giving up hope for a peaceful and timely resolution.”
“We hold on to faith that DPRK and US diplomats will resume talks soon, ultimately leading to my brother being released,” said Terri Chung, Bae’s sister.
US Representative Rick Larsen, who represents the district where Bae’s family lives, urged the North Koreans to free Bae.
“The North Koreans gain nothing from this course reversal. It is time to let Kenneth come home to his family and get the medical attention he needs,” Larsen, a Democrat, said in a statement.
King secured the release of another Korean-American missionary, Jung Young-su, in 2011 as part of a trip to assess North Korean pleas for food aid.
Relations between Washington and Pyongyang have been frosty since the collapse of a deal early last year, when North Korea broke its promise to end its long-range rocket launches and prevented nuclear inspectors from examining its nuclear stockpile and production.
Nuclear talks involving the US, China, Japan and North and South Korea have been deadlocked for five years, although Pyongyang in 2005 had signed a deal in which it would have frozen its nuclear program in exchange for economic and energy aid. North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006.
HUMAN RIGHTS SCRUTINY
North Korea’s human rights record has recently come under international scrutiny.
A UN Public Commission of Inquiry in Seoul on Aug. 20 was told by witnesses that public executions and torture are daily occurrences in the North’s prisons. Bae, 45, was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for attempting to overthrow the North Korean state by spreading anti-government propaganda, according to North Korean media. He has diabetes and his health has deteriorated since he was jailed.
North Korean state media said Bae started his plot to “topple” the country’s government in 2006, a date that coincides with his own testimony about his arrival in China.
It accused him of spreading “false propaganda” and of bribing North Korean citizens in a bid to bring down the government.
Bae lived in a Chinese town that borders North Korea and worked for a tour company, while undertaking missionary work inside North Korea.