PYONGYANG, North Korea, July 4 (UPI) -- A Korean-American sentenced to hard labor in North Korea appealed to the United States in a newspaper interview to secure his release, citing health problems.
Kenneth Bae, 44, in a videotaped interview to pro-North Korean newspaper Choson Sinbo published in Japan, said he is in poor health and wants to be reunited with his family, Voice of America reported.
Bae issued his appeal from his prison. Choson Sinbo said the interview was conducted June 26 with the approval of the North Korean government.
In April, North Korean official media reported Bae, referred to as Pae Jun-ho in North Korea, was sentenced by the country's Supreme Court to 15 years of hard labor for "committing hostile acts" against the country. The tour operator was arrested last November while "committing hostile acts" against North Korea, but no details were provided.
In the Choson Sinbo interview, Bae appeared with his head shaved and wore a blue prison uniform while sitting in a room next to a radiator, VOA said.
Separately, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency carried a photograph of Bae working on a farm as a North Korean guard watched. The report said Bae was caught in November when he entered the North along with a group of tourists.
In his appeal, Bae was quoted as saying he has health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure and a painful back while performing daily 8-hour shifts of farm work. He also told his interviewer he appreciated the medical care he has received from doctors at the camp.
Holding back tears, Bae said he wants to see his family in the United States and celebrate July 4 during his father's 70th birthday. He said he hoped North Korea would show him leniency and the U.S. government would help secure his release soon, VOA reported.
The U.S. State Department in May asked North Korea to grant Bae amnesty and immediately release him. Spokesman Patrick Ventrell had said the United States has long been concerned "about the lack of transparency and due process in the North Korean legal system," adding facts relating to Bae were not known.
The United States does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, and Swedish diplomats had been representing the United States in the Bae case.
"I know what I did is not easily forgivable, but I hope that things will work out so that I can be with my family again soon," CNN quoted Bae as saying in the interview footage. CNN said the edited footage it obtained ran less than 8 minutes.
Bae, father of three children according to his sister, also was quoted as saying he has had only two phone calls with his family, once before the trial and the second after the trial. The location of his prison was not known.
CNN said the release of the interview footage comes at a time when North Korea has proposed high-level talks with the United States.
However, the United States has said the North must first take concrete steps to give up its nuclear program.