At a hospital in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Friday, Myunghee Bae cried as she hugged her son Kenneth Bae for the first time in 11 months. They had 90 minutes together.
Bae, a 45-year old Korean-American Christian missionary, faces 15 years hard labor in the communist country. North Korean officials arrested him last November for plotting to overthrow the government while he led a tourist group through Rason, a special economic zone near the Chinese border.
In July, a video interview with Bae showed that he had lost about 50 pounds while farming vegetables at a labor camp. He’s also suffering from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems, and back pain. After seeing the video, his mother said her heart was “broken in pieces,” and she wanted very much to visit him in prison. In August, the North Korean government transferred Bae to a hospital in Pyongyang.
The U.S. government approved Myunghee's five-day visit, and the Swedish ambassador met her at the airport this week, since the United States does not have a diplomatic presence in the country.
When she arrived, she said: “I came because I am worried that my son’s health has worsened.” After their brief encounter, she told Japan’s Kyodo News Agency in Pyongyang that he looked better since his transfer to the hospital.
North Korea has detained at least six Americans since 2009, and analysts suggest they are merely bargaining chips in the clash of U.S. and North Korean interests. The United States has pressured North Korea to abandon its controversial nuclear program, requests leader Kim Jung Un has refused.
The previous American hostages gained their freedom only after prominent politicians such as former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter paid Pyongyang a visit. Bae might not be so lucky. Not only has he faced the longest detention yet, but North Korea recently changed its mind about allowing Bob King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to visit and negotiate Bae’s release. North Korean officials initially invited King to make the trip in August.