U.S. concerned about health of Korean-American man jailed in N. Korea

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, July 3 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. government expressed "grave concern" Wednesday over the apparently worsening health of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American man imprisoned in North Korea.

Responding to a prison interview of Bae aired by CNN, the State Department also urged Pyongyang to grant him amnesty and immediate release.

"We have seen the interview footage of Mr. Bae. It is clear that his health is deteriorating, which is of grave concern to us," a department official told reporters on background. "There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad."

In late April, the 44-year-old whose Korean name is Bae Jun-ho was sentenced to 15 years of forced labor for unspecified "hostile acts to bring down" the North Korean regime.

He was arrested in North Korea in November after entering the nation with a group of tourists. Some reports say he was serving as a tour operator, while others say he worked as a Christian missionary.

In the interview, the weary-looking man said, "Although my health is not good, I am being patient and coping well. And I hope that with the help of the North Korean government and the United States, I will be released soon."

The interview was conducted by Choson Shinbo, a pro-North Korean group base in Tokyo, and made available to CNN.

The U.S. said it is in regular communication with the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang over the Bae issue. The embassy serves as protecting power for U.S. nationals in North Korea as the U.S. has no diplomatic office in the country.

North Korea has denied access to Bae since May, however.

The Swedish Embassy has requested consular access on numerous occasions since the last visit on May 21, according to the official.

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