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North Korea sentences US man in possible bid for talks - The Denver Post

Associated Press

Seoul, South Korea—A Korean American detained for six months in North Korea has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for "hostile acts" against the state, the North's media said Thursday—a move that could trigger a visit by a high-profile American if history is any guide.

Kenneth Bae, 44, a Washington state man described by friends as a devout Christian and a tour operator, is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009. The others eventually were deported or released without serving out their terms, some after trips to Pyongyang by prominent Americans, including former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

With already abysmal U.S.-North Korean ties worsening since a long-range rocket-launch more than a year ago, Pyongyang is fishing for another such meeting, said Ahn Chan-il, head of the World Institute for North Korea Studies think tank in South Korea.

"North Korea is using Bae as bait to make such a visit happen. An American bigwig visiting Pyongyang would also burnish Kim Jong Un's leadership profile," Ahn said. Kim took power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in December 2011.

The authoritarian country has faced increasing criticism over its nuclear weapons ambitions. Six-nation disarmament talks involving the Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia fell apart in 2009. Several rounds of U.N. sanctions have not encouraged the North to give up its small cache of nuclear devices, which Pyongyang says it must not only keep but expand to protect itself from a hostile Washington.

Pyongyang's tone has softened somewhat recently, following weeks of violent rhetoric, including threats of nuclear war and missile strikes. There have been tentative signs of interest in diplomacy, and a major source of North Korean outrage—annual U.S.-South Korean military drills—ended Tuesday.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it was working with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang to confirm the report of Bae's sentencing. The United States lacks formal diplomatic ties with North Korea and relies on Sweden for diplomatic matters involving U.S. citizens there. The Swedish ambassador in Pyongyang, Karl-Olof Andersson, referred queries to the State Department.

Patrick Cronin, a senior analyst with the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, called Bae's conviction "a hasty gambit to force a direct dialogue with the United States."

"While Washington will do everything possible to spare an innocent American from years of hard labor, U.S. officials are aware that in all likelihood the North Korean regime wants a meeting to demonstrate that the United States in effect confers legitimacy on the North's nuclear-weapon-state status," Cronin said in an email.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One en route to Mexico that if North Korea is interested in talks, they should live up to their obligations under the six-party talks.

"Thus far, as you know, they have flouted their obligations, engaged in provocative actions and rhetoric that brings them no closer to a situation where they can improve the lot of the North Korean people or re-enter the community of nations," Carney said.

Bae's trial on charges of "committing hostile acts" against North Korea took place in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said. The announcement came just days after KCNA said Saturday that authorities would soon indict and try him. KCNA has referred to Bae as Pae Jun Ho, the North Korean spelling for his Korean name.

Bae, from Lynnwood, Washington, was arrested in early November in Rason, a special economic zone in North Korea's far northeastern region bordering China and Russia, state media said. The exact nature of Bae's alleged crimes has not been revealed.

"Kenneth Bae had no access to a lawyer. It is not even known what he was charged with," the human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement. "Kenneth Bae should be released, unless he is charged with an internationally recognizable criminal offense and retried by a competent, independent and impartial court."

Friends and colleagues say Bae was based in the Chinese border city of Dalian and traveled frequently to North Korea to feed orphans. Bae's mother in the United States did not answer calls seeking comment Thursday.

There are parallels to a case in 2009. After Pyongyang's launch of a long-range rocket and its second underground nuclear test that year, two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor after sneaking across the border from China.

They later were pardoned on humanitarian grounds and released to Clinton, who met with then-leader Kim Jong Il. U.S.-North Korea talks came later that year.



Asked by Ballad at 11:43 PM on May. 2, 2013 in Politics & Current Events

Level 45 (193,996 Credits)
This question is closed.
Answers (6)
  • Bae should have stayed the hell out of North Korea! Sounds harsh, I know, but he's not stupid and was very aware of what was going on with NK!
    NK is using Bae to garner attention from the U.S. hoping for a meeting.

    Answer by PMSMom10 at 11:48 PM on May. 2, 2013

  • He didn't do anything. According to news sights He was found to have a hard disk containing sensitive information.
    He does actually run a tourism company called Nations Tour. Specializing in current events, etc. in North Korea.

    I think it's just a ploy by North Korea to get attention from us.

    Answer by PMSMom10 at 12:42 AM on May. 3, 2013

  • "sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for "hostile acts" against the state, the North's media said Thursday"OP
    What did he do? Piss on a fence? Another example of one nation telling another nation "my penis is bigger than yours!" The other response "No by god I have the bigger dick!" And back and forth...until one of them erupts..:) lol

    Answer by Michigan-Mom74 at 12:10 AM on May. 3, 2013

  • Its hard telling OP. He could have just flipped off the dictator. NK isn't known for their humanitarian efforts. They still have active concentration camps that would make Hitler proud and give a big hug to 'ol Kim boy there telling "good job son!" If thats where they plan to send that guy, he will not come out the same man as he did when he went in there.

    Answer by Michigan-Mom74 at 12:32 AM on May. 3, 2013

  • I hate to say this, but this poor man will probably never be heard from again. This is the way N. Korea treats their own citizens as well. Those sent to these "hard-labor" camps usually suffer the same fate as those in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.

    Answer by HHx5 at 11:53 AM on May. 3, 2013

  • I agree, PMS. With everything that has been going on in North Korea, no American should be setting a foot in that country right now. Still, "crimes against the state" is a vague term, and I wonder what Bae could have done to earn fifteen years of hard labor.

    Comment by Ballad (original poster) at 12:17 AM on May. 3, 2013