Mother of US citizen jailed in North Korea leaves Pyongyang without son

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Passersby watch a local television broadcast in Seoul on May 2, 2013 showing a picture of Kenneth Bae (R), a Korean-American tour operator detained in North Korea. North Korea said on May 2 it had sentenced Bae to 15 years' hard labor for 'hostile acts', stoking tensions with the United States.

Credit:

KIM JAE-HWAN

The mother of Kenneth Bae, the US citizen and Christian missionary imprisoned in North Korea, ended her five-day trip to the secretive country on Tuesday, saying she was "more anxious than ever to bring him home."

But it's unclear if that will be anytime soon. Kenneth Bae has served almost one year in a North Korean labor camp, and according to his sentence, he has 14 more years to serve for what Pyongyang has called "hostile acts" intended to topple the government.

"The DPRK authorities generously allowed me to visit my son three times," Myunghee Bae said in a statement released online. "I am very grateful that my son Kenneth and I were able to spend those precious hours together."

The good news is that her son's health appears to have improved.

In a July interview, Kenneth Bae, 45, who is diabetic and has an enlarged heart, talked of his deteriorating health, including rapid weight loss and high blood pressure. After that video aired he was transferred from jail to a hospital in the capital, Pyongyang.

"I was relieved to see that Kenneth’s health has been improving because of the medical treatment he has received for the last two months," Myunghee Bae said.

In previous cases like Bae's, US citizens trapped in North Korea have been released after high-profile visits from an American dignitary, including former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

In August, ambassador Robert King, President Barack Obama's special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, was scheduled to fly to Pyongyang. But the North Korean government canceled the trip.

"I was happy to see [Kenneth] and to hold him, but it broke my heart to leave him behind," Myunghee Bae said after her visit. "I am more anxious than ever to bring him home. His year-long imprisonment has taken a heavy toll not only on Kenneth but on the whole family; every day the pain and anxiety continue to carve a deep scar on all of our hearts."

"I plead with our government to do everything in their power to secure my son’s release soon," she added.