State media: U.S. man sentenced in North Korea not a ‘bargaining chip’

Kenneth Bae

By Dana Ford, CNN

(CNN) — The case of a U.S. citizen sentenced to 15 years in a North Korean labor camp is not a “political bargaining chip,” the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Sunday.

Pae Jun Ho, known as Kenneth Bae by U.S. authorities, was arrested and prosecuted for various crimes aimed at “state subversion,” KCNA said. It previously reported the Korean-American was arrested November 3 after arriving as a tourist in Rason City, a port in the northeastern corner of North Korea.

In prior instances, North Korea has released Americans in its custody after a visit by some U.S. dignitary.

But Bae’s case could get caught up in the recent tensions between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the North is formally known, and the United States.

“Whenever Americans were put under custody in the DPRK for violating the country’s law, former or incumbent high-ranking American officials flew to Pyongyang and apologized for their crimes and promised to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents. Therefore, the DPRK showed generosity and set them free from the humanitarian point of view,” KCNA reported, citing a foreign ministry spokesman.

“Pae’s case proves that as long as the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK remains unchanged, humanitarian generosity will be of no use in ending Americans’ illegal acts.”

According to the report, Bae entered North Korea “with a disguised identity.” He reportedly “confessed and admitted his crimes.”

“Some media of the U.S. said that the DPRK tried to use Pae’s case as a political bargaining chip. This is ridiculous and wrong guess.

“The DPRK has no plan to invite anyone of the U.S. as regards Pae’s issue,” read the KCNA report.

Last week, the United States demanded Bae’s immediate release.

“You all are aware of the history and how this has happened in the past with U.S. citizens,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters in Washington. “But what we’re calling for and we’re urging the DPRK authorities to do is to grant him amnesty and to allow for his immediate release, full stop.”

Ventrell said the State Department was still trying to confirm details of the case through Swedish diplomats who visited Bae last week. Sweden represents U.S. interests in North Korea because Washington has no diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

U.S. officials have struggled to establish how exactly Bae ran afoul of North Korean authorities.

Bae’s sister told CNN last week that her brother is the owner of a tour company and was in North Korea for work.

He’d traveled to the country previously with no problems and had no reason to suspect that this time would be different, said Terri Chung.

“You know, Kenneth is a good man; he’s not a spy. He has never had any evil intentions against North Korea, or any other country for that matter,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.

North Korea is considered to have one of the most repressive penal systems in the world. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 200,000 people are being held in a network of prison camps that the regime is believed to use to crush political dissent.

CNN’s K.J. Kwon and Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.

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