Mother of imprisoned American in North Korea to see ailing son

Mrs Myunghee Bae, the mother of Mr Kenneth Bae, is pictured during an interview with Reuters in Lynnwood, Washington in this file photo taken on Aug 7, 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
Mrs Myunghee Bae, the mother of Mr Kenneth Bae, is pictured during an interview with Reuters in Lynnwood, Washington in this file photo taken on Aug 7, 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

SEATTLE (REUTERS) – The mother of an imprisoned American missionary and tour operator has arrived in North Korea to visit her ailing son, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in May on charges of state subversion, his family said on Thursday.

The family of Kenneth Bae said that Myunghee Bae expected to be in North Korea for about five days for a trip in which she aimed “to encourage her son,” who has diabetes and was in ill health.

“I don’t really know what to expect for my trip. All I know is that I want to see my son,” Bae’s mother said in a statement in which she also expressed gratitude to Pyongyang for allowing the visit.

Bae, 45, was detained last November as he led a tour group through the northern region of the country. His sentencing came amid acrimonious relations between Pyongyang and Washington over the reclusive state’s nuclear programme.

In sentencing Bae, who has acknowledged being a missionary and has said he conducted religious services in the North, the court said he used his tourism business to form groups aimed at overthrowing the government.

The family said that Bae’s health has deteriorated during his detention and that he was hospitalised two months ago and had lost a significant amount of weight.

Bae, a naturalised US citizen born in South Korea who moved to the United States with his family in 1985, has spent much of the last seven years in China where he started a business leading tour groups into the northern region of North Korea, according to his sister.