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Jailed American missionary appeals for release from NK

PYONGYANG--An American missionary who has been jailed in North Korea for more than a year appeared before reporters Monday and appealed to the U.S. government to do its best to secure his release.

The missionary, Kenneth Bae, made the comments at what he called a press 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.

Wearing a gray cap and inmate's uniform with the number 103 on his chest, Bae spoke in Korean during the brief appearance, which was attended by The Associated Press and a few other foreign media in Pyongyang.

“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, the longest-serving American detainee in North Korea in recent years, expressed hope that the U.S. government will do its best to secure his release. He said he has not been treated badly in confinement.

A sticking point with Bae might be that the U.S. government has said he is not guilty of any crimes. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said last month that Bae is being held without reason, which Pyongyang denies. Bae on Monday made an apology and said he had committed anti-government acts. He said recent comments in the media from the U.S. side — likely alluding to Biden's remarks — have made his situation more complicated.

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.

His appearance came weeks after North Korea freed an elderly American veteran of the Korean War who had been held for weeks for alleged crimes during the 1950-53 war.

“We shouldn't take Kenneth Bae's comments merely as his own,” said Kim Jin-moo, a North Korea expert at the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. “The reason why North Korea had Kenneth Bae make this statement ... is that they want Washington to reach out to them.”

“Bae's comments are an appeal to Washington to actively persuade Pyongyang to release him,” Kim said.

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American missionary Kenneth Bae, second from right, arrives to speak to reporters at Pyongyang Friendship Hospital in Pyongyang on Monday, Jan. 20.

(AP)

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