- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2014

Kenneth Bae, the American who was sentenced to 15 years in a North Korea labor camp for distributing religious materials in the atheist state, held a press conference on Monday and admitted he was guilty of a “serious crime” against the state.

CNN reported via China’s state-run news agency Xinhua that Mr. Bae also said that North Korea does “not abuse human rights.”

Still, the press conference on Monday was seen by North Korean experts as a propaganda tool for the regime.

“We shouldn’t take Kenneth Bae’s comments merely as his own,” said Kim Jin Moo, a North Korea expert at the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul, in the AP report. “The reason why North Korea had Kenneth Bae make this statement … is that they want Washington to reach out to them. Bae’s comments are an appeal to Washington to actively persuade Pyongyang to release him.”

The Associated Press, which had reporters at the gathering, said Mr. Bae was under guard and dressed in prison garb — gray cap and uniform, with the number 103 on his chest — during the entire conference. AP also said that Mr. Bae reportedly requested the conference.

“I believe that my problem can be solved by close cooperation and agreement between the American government and the government of this country,” he said, AP reported. He also said his North Korean captors weren’t treating him badly.

Mr. Bae, arrested in November 2012 while he was leading a tour in North Korea, was sentenced for crimes against the government. He’s been suffering numerous health problems of late, including complications from his diabetes, and his family has made several appeals for the U.S. government to step in and take a stronger role in securing his release.

Meanwhile, former NBA player Dennis Rodman has made several trips to the regime in the last year to meet with his self-described “friend for life” Kim Jong-un — but has been reluctant to address the matter of Mr. Bae. Mr. Bae’s family expressed outrage over Mr. Rodman’s recent trip to North Korea to play a basketball game in the North Korean leader’s honor and sing him happy birthday.

A leading U.S. diplomat was scheduled to meet with North Korean authorities in August to speak of Mr. Bae’s release. But the trip was canceled at the last minute after Pyongyang accused the United States of acts of hostility.

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