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US man starts 'hard labour' term in N Korea

15 May 2013, 13:23

Seoul - A Korean-American tour operator sentenced to 15 years hard labour in North Korea for subversion has begun serving his time in prison, state media said on Wednesday.

Kenneth Bae "started his life at a 'special prison' on Tuesday", the official Korean Central News Agency said in a brief despatch, which reaffirmed that Bae had been convicted of seeking to "topple" the regime in Pyongyang.

It did not elaborate on how the prison was "special".

Bae, whose Korean name is Pae Jun-Ho, was arrested in November as he entered the north-eastern North Korean port city of Rason. His trial was held on 30 April.

Last week, a spokesperson for the North's Supreme Court provided some details of the charges against Bae, painting him as a militant Christian evangelist who smuggled inflammatory material into the country and sought to establish a subversive base in Rason.

"He dared commit such hideous crimes as hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership," the spokesperson said, adding that Bae had made a full confession, which was why he received a jail term rather than a possible death sentence.

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 the United States.

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

Several Americans held in North Korea in recent years were freed following high-profile visits from the likes of former US presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

The US State Department has called for Bae's "immediate release".



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