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(LEAD) Kenneth Bae's mother in N. Korea to see jailed son

2013/10/11 17:24

(ATTN: UPDATES with report of mother's meeting with Bae)

SEOUL, Oct. 11 (Yonhap) -- The mother of a U.S. missionary, jailed in North Korea for unspecified anti-government activities, was allowed to meet her son Friday, a news report said.

Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American based in China, was traveling in North Korea late last year when he was arrested by authorities on charges of trying to overthrow the North's communist regime. In April, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

On Friday, Japan's Kyodo News reported from Pyongyang that the missionary's mother, Bae Myung-hee, met with her son at a hospital. She was quoted by Kyodo as saying that her son's health "did not look that bad."

   The missionary also told his mother that his health has improved a great deal, according to Kyodo.

Earlier in the day, a Japan-based pro-North Korean paper said the mother had arrived at Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang late Thursday, with plans to stay for five days in the North.

The Chosun Sinbo, the official paper of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, interviewed the 68-year-old mother, who expressed concerns about her son's health.

"I asked to come to the North and the U.S. government gave consent," she told the paper, adding that she dearly wanted to meet her son during her five-day stay in the communist country.

She was met by the Swedish ambassador to the North, who provides consular services to Americans traveling in the isolationist country, which does not have formal ties with the United States.

Bae was imprisoned for conducting religious services in the North while leading a tour group. The North Korean courts sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor in April for what it claimed were subversive activities to overthrow the regime.

The missionary was born in South Korea but got his American citizenship after his family moved to the United States in 1985.

The visit by the mother comes after a planned trip by Robert King, Washington's special envoy on North Korean human rights, fell through in August amid strained relations between North Korea and the United States.

Related to the latest trip, North Korean observers said that Pyongyang's action to allow a family member to meet a prisoner is unheard of.

They said Pyongyang may be trying to generate public sympathy for Bae's plight so as to pressure the United States to come to the negotiating table to discuss wide-ranging issues.

The U.S. in the past maintained that releasing Bae is a humanitarian move, and made clear it did not link its citizen's freedom with larger issues such as efforts to get the North to give up its nuclear weapons program.