US must change N. Korea policy before detainee is freed: Paper

SEOUL (AFP) - Even a high-profile trip by a prominent US political figure will not secure the release of a Korean-American sentenced to hard labour in North Korea, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper said on Wednesday.

In previous cases, several Americans held in the North were freed following visits from the likes of former US presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

But Pyongyang is taking a different approach to the case of tour operator Kenneth Bae, who was sentenced to 15 years' hard labour for subversion, said the Chosun Sinbo, which normally speaks for the regime in the North.

"Although the US government and media are misleading public opinion by saying that North Korea is trying to use the case of Bae ... for a political deal, North Korea is now taking a different stance," said the newspaper published in Japan.

In order to free Bae, President Barack Obama should abandon Washington's hostile policy towards Pyongyang, the newspaper said.

Bae was sentenced at a time of heightened military tensions on the Korean peninsula, leading to suggestions that Pyongyang hoped to use him as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from Washington.

The North has staunchly denied any such strategy and said it has no intention of inviting any leading US figure to discuss Bae's release.

In an interview with Chosun Sinbo last week, Bae appealed to the United States to secure his early release, saying he has been in poor health since being sent to prison in May.

The 44-year-old said he was suffering from diabetes, a fatty liver, hardening of the arteries and a pain in the waist.

The United States expressed grave concern about Bae's health and renewed appeals to Pyongyang to grant him amnesty and free him immediately.

Bae, whose Korean name is Pae Jun Ho, was arrested last November as he entered the northeastern port city of Rason.

State media has said he had been convicted of trying to topple the regime in Pyongyang.

A court in the North has described him as a militant Christian evangelist who smuggled inflammatory material into the country.

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