SEATTLE – The family of an American missionary held more than a year in North Korea was heartbroken and encouraged by a brief news conference in which Kenneth Bae, wearing a gray cap and inmate’s uniform with the number 103 on his chest, apologized and said he committed anti-government acts.
“Our end goal is to see Kenneth reunited so he can recover emotionally and physically. He has chronic health problems,” family friend Derek Sciba told The Associated Press. Sciba is a friend of Bae’s sister, Terri Chung of Edmonds, Wash., and part of a group pushing for Bae’s release.
“On the one hand it’s heartbreaking to see him in a prison uniform at the mercy of folks in North Korea, but on the other hand it’s encouraging to see him and that he’s able to speak,” Sciba said.
Bae made the comments at what he called a news conference held at his own request. He was under guard during the appearance. It is not unusual for prisoners in North Korea to say after their release that they spoke in similar situations under duress.
Bae spoke in Korean during the brief appearance, which was attended by The Associated Press and several other members of the foreign media in Pyongyang.
Bae, the longest-serving American detainee in North Korea in recent years, expressed hope that the U.S. government will do its best to win his release. He said he had not been treated badly in confinement.
“I believe that my problem can be solved by close cooperation and agreement between the American government and the government of this country,” he said.
Bae was arrested in November 2012 while leading a tour group and accused of crimes against the state before being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He was moved to a hospital last summer in poor health.
He made an apology Monday and said he had committed anti-government acts.
Bae said a comment last month by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden had made his situation more difficult.
“The vice president of United States said that I was detained here without any reason,” Bae said. “And even my younger sister recently told the press that I had not committed any crime and I know that the media reported it.
“I think these comments infuriated the people here enormously. And for this reason, I am in a difficult situation now. As a result, although I was in medical treatment in the hospital for five months until now, it seems I should return to prison. And moreover there is greater difficulty in discussions about my amnesty.”