By Gene Johnson
SEATTLE (AP) – The Seattle-area family of an American citizen detained in North Korea for more than a year is cheering Pyongyang’s decision to release 85-year-old tourist Merrill Newman and wondering when their loved one will come home.The family of Kenneth Bae issued a statement saying they had been praying for Newmans freedom. Newman is a veteran who had advised a guerrilla group during the Korean War. He had been detained since late October and arrived home in California on Saturday.
“We have been praying for him and are very happy that his family will have him at the head of their table for the holidays,” the statement said. “We believe that our Kenneth should also come home soon. We have faith in our government to bring Kenneth home, and we dearly wish that we will also have joyful holidays with Kenneth.”
Bae, a 45-year-old Christian missionary, was arrested in November 2012, while leading a group of tourists. The North Korean government accused him of subversive acts and sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor. He was transferred to a hospital this year due to health concerns.
The State Department and Vice President Joe Biden have called for his release.
Upon hearing of Newman’s release, Vice President Biden, who was in South Korea finishing his tour of Asian countries, called the news good and demanded Bae also be set free.
“It’s a positive thing they’ve done,” said Biden, “but they still have Mr. Bae, who has no reason being held in the North and should be released immediately. We’re going to demand his release as well. At least there’s one bright piece of sunshine, that he will be released and return to his family.”
Bae, a father of three, was born in South Korea and immigrated to the United States with his parents and sister in 1985. He had been living in China for about seven years before his arrest.
Within the last few years, Bae began leading small tour groups, mostly of American and Canadian citizens, into a “special economic zone” designed to encourage commerce in northeastern North Korea.
Several years ago, Bae gave a sermon in which he advocated bringing Americans to North Korea for a mass prayer session to bring about the reunification of North and South Korea.
Throughout his detention, his mother and sister, who live in the north Seattle suburbs of Lynnwood and Edmonds, respectively, have expressed concern for his health. They said he suffers from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems, and back pain.
Over the summer, after he lost about 50 pounds, he was transferred from a prison camp, where he had been farming vegetables to a hospital. His mother, Myunghee Bae, was allowed into North Korea for an emotional visit with him in October. (end)