TOKYO - An American imprisoned in North Korea has told a pro-Pyongyang media outlet that he wants the U.S. to "try harder" to help him gain amnesty from a sentence of 15 years of hard labor for alleged crimes against the government.
In what appears to be his first media interview since his November arrest, Kenneth Bae told the Tokyo-based Choson Sinbo in a story published Wednesday that he had hoped to be out by Thursday. That's not only Independence Day but his father's 70th birthday. He said he still hopes the U.S. government will help him get released quickly.
He was sent in May to what the North calls a "special prison," and Pyongyang's decision to allow the interview may have been an attempt to show that he is not being treated harshly. But an analyst said Pyongyang is also trying to use Bae as a bargaining chip to start bilateral talks with the U.S.
Bae, 44, of Lynnwood, Wash., was arrested in the northeastern North Korean region of Rason and was interviewed last week at a North Korean prison where he is serving out his sentence. An American of Korean descent, Bae entered the special economic zone as a tour operator but was convicted in late April of plotting to commit "hostile acts" against the North Korean government.
Photos and video of Bae published this week by Choson Sinbo show him with his head shaven and wearing gray overalls bearing the number 103.
Choson Sinbo, which caters to Japan's pro-Pyongyang North Korean community, provided an unusual look at Bae's life inside his "special education center" cell. It has a wash basin, a desk and a television.
Bae said he wakes up at 6 every morning. He then does farm work, planting seeds and weeding, until his labor ends at 6 p.m. He gets Sundays and holidays off, he told the paper during an interview June 26.
"People here are very considerate, so I'm not working too hard, but my health is not in the best condition so there are some difficulties," Bae said in a Choson Sinbo video shared with CNN and posted to the paper's Facebook page. It's likely he gave the interview in the presence of North Korean officials.