21 February 2019
(From left) Kenneth Bae, Matthew Miller and Jeffrey Fowle say they are being treated humanely. Photo: CNN
(From left) Kenneth Bae, Matthew Miller and Jeffrey Fowle say they are being treated humanely. Photo: CNN

3 Americans detained in North Korea plead for Washington help

They appeared to speak freely but cautiously. One was serving a 15-year sentence in North Korea the other two were awaiting trial.

On Monday Pyongyang allowed CNN and the Associated Press to interview the three Americans, who appealed to the US government to help them return home.

Reuters said the rare interviews, conducted in tightly controlled circumstances, may signal an attempt by the North Korean government to reopen a long-stalled dialogue.

The men said they were being treated humanely but asked Washington to get more actively involved in helping resolve their situation. One of them said his health was failing and another described his situation as “urgent”.

Responding to the interviews, the US government urged Pyongyang to release the men, and said Washington was working to try to secure their return home.

“Out of humanitarian concern for Jeffrey Fowle, Matthew Miller, and their families, we request the DPRK release them so they may return home,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement, using the formal acronym for North Korea, and referring to the two men awaiting trial.

“We also request the DPRK pardon Kenneth Bae and grant him special amnesty and immediate release so he may reunite with his family and seek medical care,” she added.

Bae, a Christian missionary and tour operator who was arrested 18 months ago and has been sentenced to hard labor, told CNN he had spent the time “going back and forth” between a hospital and a labor camp.

“I ask the US government and people out there to really put in effort to send somebody, to make it work,” Bae was quoted as saying.

The detainees told AP they did not know they were going to be interviewed until immediately beforehand.

The White House said it was doing everything it could to secure the release of the three, but did not say if the men’s’ appeal might change Washington’s approach.

The choreographed staging of the interviews suggests that North Korea may be looking for a way to reopen a long-stalled dialogue with Washington, possibly through the dispatch of a high-level US envoy to Pyongyang, Reuters said.

But the Obama administration is likely to tread carefully, mindful that Pyongyang has previously tried to use American prisoners as bargaining chips in talks with Washington. The White House has insisted on the prisoners’ release with no strings attached and says other issues, such as North Korea’s disputed nuclear program, remain separate, the report said.

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