US calls for NKorea amnesty of former UO student

Ken Bae
Kenneth Bae, a U.S. tour operator, has been detained in North Korea since early November 2012. This image comes from a Facebook page dedicated to his release. (Facebook, April 30, 2013)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. is calling for North Korea to grant an amnesty for the immediate release of a Korean-American sentenced to 15 years hard labor for “hostile acts” against the state.

The 44-year-old Kenneth Bae is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009. The others eventually were deported or released without serving out their terms, some after trips to Pyongyang by prominent Americans, including former presidents.

Analysts say Bae’s sentencing could be an effort by Pyongyang to win diplomatic concessions in the ongoing standoff over its nuclear program.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Thursday the U.S. was still seeking to learn the facts of the case. He said the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which handles consular matters there for the U.S., did not attend Tuesday’s trial.

Kenneth Bae was at the University of Oregon between 1988 and 1990, The Register-Guard newspaper reported Tuesday. School spokeswoman Julie Brown said Bae majored in psychology but left before getting a degree.

UO alum Bobby Lee, 44, a policy adviser for Gov. John Kitzhaber, told the Register-Guard he and Bae were “practically roommates” during their years at UO. The pair often traveled to the Oregon Coast.

Bae is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in South Korea but most recently lived in the Seattle suburb of Lynnwood. He operated a travel company that took tourists and prospective investors to North Korea.

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