Lynnwood mom of American held in N. Korea to visit him

SEATTLE — The mother of an American man detained in North Korea for the past 11 months is being allowed to visit him, his family said Thursday.

Myunghee Bae of Lynnwood has arrived in Pyongyang and was scheduled to meet with her son, Kenneth Bae, Friday morning local time, Bae’s sister Terri Chung told The Associated Press.

“We’re very happy she’s being allowed to visit him,” Chung said. “It’s been a long time. I think it will be a source of comfort and encouragement for him.”

Kenneth Bae, a 45-year-old tour operator and Christian missionary, was arrested last November while leading a group of tourists in the northeastern region of Rason in North Korea. Kenneth Bae is a U.S. citizen but had been living in China for the past seven years.

He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. However, he was transferred over the summer from a prison camp, where he largely farmed vegetables, to a hospital because he had lost more than 50 pounds. Kenneth Bae also suffers from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and back pain, his family has said.

In a video statement before she left, Myunghee Bae said her heart “was broken into pieces” when a prison interview with her son surfaced in July, because he looked so different. Her trip will last five days.

“I want to see him and comfort him and hold him in person,” she said. “I miss him so much.”

Kenneth Bae is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009. The others eventually were allowed to leave without serving out their terms, some after prominent Americans, including former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, visited North Korea.

Analysts suggest North Korea previously used detained Americans as bargaining chips in a standoff with the United States, which long has pressed Pyongyang to abandon a nuclear program estimated to have a handful of crude atomic weapons.

Recently attempts by the U.S. government to free Kenneth Bae have come up short. In late August, North Korea rescinded its invitation for a senior U.S. envoy to travel to Pyongyang to seek his release.

Kenneth Bae, a father of three, was born in South Korea and immigrated to the U.S. with his parents and sister in 1985. He later moved to China, and a couple of years ago he began leading small tour groups, mostly of American and Canadian citizens. He led the groups into a “special economic zone” designed to encourage commerce in Rason.

Several years ago, Bae gave a sermon in which he advocated bringing Americans to North Korea for a mass prayer session to bring about the reunification of North and South Korea.

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Follow Gene Johnson at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle

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