US & Canada

Release of three Americans in N Korea a 'top priority'

Mathew Miller, an American detained in North Korea, waits in a room. Image copyright AP
Image caption Miller was interviewed in Pyongyang, where he and Fowle could be on trial next month

The White House has said securing the release of three American citizens detained in North Korea is a "top priority" and it is doing all it can.

The statement was made in response to a televised appeal by the Americans asking for help from the US government.

Kenneth Bae, 46, has been held in North Korea since 2012 and is currently in a labour camp outside Pyongyang.

Jeffrey Fowle, 56, and Matthew Miller, 24, are charged with violating North Korean law and are awaiting trial.

North Korea has a history of using detainees as bargaining chips.

In the past, Americans held by Pyongyang have been freed after senior US figures, including former President Bill Clinton, travelled to the country to negotiate.

The US has offered several times to send Robert King, its special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to Pyongyang to discuss the detainees, but these visits have been cancelled by Pyongyang.


The three spoke to CNN and the Associated Press on Monday with North Korea officials present.

Each man was interviewed separately for five minutes in different hotel rooms in the capital Pyongyang.

All asked for a US representative to go to North Korea to make a direct appeal for their release.

"We have seen the reports of interviews with the three American citizens detained in North Korea," White House spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, said in a statement.

"Securing the release of US citizens is a top priority and we have followed these cases closely in the White House. We continue to do all we can to secure their earliest possible release," he said.

In his interview, Mr Bae said he had been hospitalised for health problems which included back pain, a sleep disorder and weight loss.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Bae has been in detention the longest after travelling to North Korea in 2012

The Korean American missionary is serving a sentence of 15 years of hard labour in a camp outside Pyongyang after being convicted of trying to overthrow the government.

"The only hope that I have is to have someone from the US come," he said.

"But so far, the latest I've heard is that there has been no response yet. So I believe that officials here are waiting for that," he said.

Mr Bae said he was not aware he had violated North Korean law and asked for forgiveness.

The other two detainees, Mr Fowle and Mr Miller, told reporters they expected to face trial within a month, but did not know what the specific charges were against them.

Mr Fowle arrived in North Korea in April and was held when he tried to leave the country, according to North Korean news agency KCNA.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Japanese press reported that Mr Fowle was suspected of leaving a Bible in a nightclub

Reports in the Japanese press say Mr Fowle was suspected of leaving a Bible in a nightclub in the northern port city of Chongjin. Christian proselytising is considered a crime in North Korea.

Mr Miller was also taken into custody in April after he reportedly tore up his tourist visa at the airport and shouted he wanted asylum, according to KCNA.

"I've been requesting help for a long time and there's been no movement from my government," Mr Miller told CNN.

Mr Fowle and Mr Miller have said they expect to face trial within a month. But they said they do not know what punishment they could face or what they are accused of.

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