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North Korea Calls Off Envoy For Kenneth Bae

KUOW Photo/Liz Jones
Kenneth Bae has been able to send some correspondence, including this letter, to his family in Edmonds, Wash.

The Seattle-area family of Kenneth Bae, an American man held in North Korea, said their hopes fell again this week. For the second time, North Korea rescinded its invitation for a U.S. envoy to discuss Bae’s possible release.
Bae's sister, Terri Chung of Edmonds, said the past week has been an emotional roller-coaster.

"We were holding our breath that this could be the time,” Chung said. "Then to find out that it was canceled once again two days later was devastating."

The U.S. State Department confirmed Monday that North Korea withdrew its invitation for a high-level diplomat to visit.

Bae’s family, including his Lynnwood-based parents, count the days since his imprisonment. Monday marked day 474.

Bae, 45, has lived in China since 2006 and ran a tour business that specialized in trips to North Korea.

In 2012, North Korea accused Bae of of smuggling in inflammatory literature and trying to establish a base for anti-government activities at a border city hotel. Bae was later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

Chung said her brother was able to make a rare call home recently, just a few days after Christmas.

“He said he was doing OK, those were his words,” Chung said. “That was the very first time he got to talk to his children in the last 15 months so that was really emotional and heartbreaking to watch."

Chung said her family remains deeply worried about Bae's health in the labor camp since he suffers from chronic medical conditions, including diabetes. He was hospitalized last year after losing 50 pounds, but Chung said he was moved back to the labor camp in January.

Bae’s family has also met with Reverend Jesse Jackson, who’s offered to lead a humanitarian mission to seek Bae's release. However, North Korea would need to grant permission for that visit.

U.S. officials, including President Obama, have repeatedly called for Bae's immediate release.

Year started with KUOW: 2006