Published January 20, 2014
In a videotaped "press conference" experts believe was almost certainly given under duress, American missionary Kenneth Bae confessed to committing crimes against North Korea and appealed to the U.S. to help free him.
Speaking under guard, the 45-year-old said he has been treated well and that Pyongyang has provided him "humanitarian support," according to China's state-run news agency Xinhua, which has a presence in Pyongyang.
Bae said the address was given at his own request, though it is not unusual for prisoners in North Korea to say after their release that they spoke in similar situations under duress.
Wearing a gray inmate uniform with No. 103 on his chest, as well as a gray cap, Bae spoke in Korean during the brief appearance.
"I believe that my problem can be solved by close cooperation and agreement between the American government and the government of this country," Bae said, adding that he has not been treated badly in confinement.
Bae was arrested in November 2012 while leading a tour group. He was accused by the North Korean government of crimes against the state and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Bae's family and the U.S. State Department have repeatedly called for his release on humanitarian grounds, citing his failing health.
"We shouldn't take Kenneth Bae's comments merely as his own," Kim Jin Moo, a North Korea expert at the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul, told The Associated Press. "The reason why North Korea had Kenneth Bae make this statement ... is that they want Washington to reach out to them."
"Bae's comments are an appeal to Washington to actively persuade Pyongyang to release him," Kim said.
Last month, North Korea freed American Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old veteran of the Korean War who had traveled to the country with a tour group and was arrested for alleged crimes during the 1950-53 war. North Korean state media claimed Newman was freed because he apologized in a videotaped confession for his wrongdoing and that authorities also considered his age and medical conditions. Newman said after his release that the confession was given involuntarily and under duress, although he was generally treated well.
North Korea has detained at least seven Americans since 2009. They include two reporters for Current TV who crossed into North Korea while working on a story and were later freed after former President Bill Clinton traveled there to meet with Kim Jong Il, the former leader whose son, Kim Jong Un, now rules the communist dictatorship.
Bae's captivity was at the center of the controversy surrounding basketball star Dennis Rodman's visit to North Korea earlier this year. In an interview with CNN, Rodman -- who had been criticized for not doing more to secure Bae's release -- made comments implying that Bae was at fault. Rodman later apologized for his remarks and checked into alcohol rehab last week.
Bae was born in South Korea and immigrated to the United States in 1985 with his parents and sister. He was allowed to call home on Dec. 29 because of the holidays, according to his sister, Terri Chung. That was the first time his three children from an earlier marriage had spoken to him, she said. He has two children in Arizona and another in Hawaii, ages 17, 22 and 23, Chung said.
Before his arrest, Bae lived in China for seven years with his wife and stepdaughter. He ran a tour business and led 18 trips to North Korea, Chung said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.