US urges North Korea to free detained trio

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WASHINGTON: The United States urged North Korea on Sunday to let three Americans held in the reclusive country return home, after Pyongyang said one of them will stand trial this week.

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Matthew Miller, who is being held in North Korea along with fellow US citizens Kenneth Bae and Jeffrey Fowle, will go on trial on September 14, state media said earlier Sunday.

North Korea said in June it would put Miller and Fowle on trial on unspecified charges related to “perpetrating hostile acts.”

The ailing Bae, a Korean-American described by the North as a militant Christian evangelist, was arrested in November 2012 and later sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour on charges of seeking to topple the North Korean government.

“Out of humanitarian concern for Jeffrey Fowle, Matthew Miller, and their families, we request the DPRK (North Korea) release them so they may return home,” said US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

“We also request the DPRK pardon Kenneth Bae and grant him special amnesty and immediate release so he may reunite with his family and seek medical care.‎”

On September 1, the three men pleaded for their freedom in an interview with CNN.

As North Korean government minders looked on, they urged Washington to send an envoy to the isolated authoritarian state to negotiate their release.

“My situation is very urgent,” said Miller, who was arrested in April after Pyongyang said he ripped up his visa at immigration and demanded asylum.

Fowle entered the North on April 29 and was detained after reportedly leaving a Bible at a hotel.

Bae, who is being held at a labor camp, is suffering a range of illnesses and ailments, including a severe back problem, his supporters say.

AFP

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