(SEOUL, South Korea) — The mother of detained American missionary Kenneth Bae is in North Korea to meet with her ailing son who has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for attempting to overthrow the North Korean government.
Bae’s mother, Myunghee Bae, has arrived in Pyongyang and is scheduled to meet with her son later on Friday.
Kenneth Bae, 45, is reportedly suffering from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems, back pain and has lost over 50 pounds since his arrest last November.
“My heart was broken into pieces when his prison interview was released on July 3, because his appearance was very shocking. He looks so different and he lost so much weight,” Myunghee Bae said in a video statement Thursday before she left. “As a mother, I worry endlessly about his health and I want to see him and comfort him and hold him in person.”
North Korean authorities have granted Bae five days “to encourage” her son, according to a statement released by Kenneth Bae’s sister, Terri Chung.
Bae, a Korean-American missionary was operating a tour company out of China, specializing in trips to Rason, a special economic zone in North Korea’s northeastern border with China and Russia.
“This is a very rare case. But for Kim Jung-un, he has nothing to lose by granting this trip,” said Yang Moo-jin, professor of external affairs at University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “Kim has created so many unpredictable situations after taking power, so nothing is expectable [whether he will release Bae]. But this event is surely to improve his international image.”
Bae’s family does not expect much from the trip other than for his mother to visit him at a Pyongyang hospital.
“That was the stated purpose of the trip, for which we sought and granted permission,” Chung told ABC News in an email.
“We hope that this trip will help bring more attention to Kenneth’s plight…and we plead with the DPRK government for their mercy, to grant amnesty,” she added.
Many analysts in Seoul see the grant as an effort by North Korea to soften relations with the United States.
“What they want is to restart talks which are essential to guarantee stability of Kim Jong-un’s regime and bring back much-needed economic aid,” said Kim Yong-hyun, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.
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