The mother of Kenneth Bae, the ailing American missionary serving a 15-year sentence of hard labor in North Korea, said on Tuesday that "it broke my heart to leave him behind" after the North Korean authorities had permitted her to visit him in a Pyongyang hospital.
In a statement released by the Bae family, the mother, Myunghee Bae, 69, also expressed thanks to North Korean officials, who allowed her to see Mr. Bae, 45, three times over the course of a five-day stay in the country. Family members had held out hope that the gesture might have led to clemency for Mr. Bae, and it was clear from the statement that they were disappointed.
Mr. Bae, an American of Korean descent, was detained in the port city of Rason last November. He was convicted of hostile acts against the North Korean government for proselytizing and was dispatched in May to a prison camp, where he lost 50 pounds and has suffered from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and chronic back pain. He was transferred in August to a hospital in Pyongyang, where he was convalescing, and his mother was granted permission to visit North Korea last Thursday. She left on Monday.
"I was happy to see him and to hold him, but it broke my heart to leave him behind," she said in a statement posted on a Web site created to publicize a campaign to free Mr. Bae, whose family lives in Washington State. "His yearlong imprisonment has taken a heavy toll not only on Kenneth but on the whole family: every day the pain and anxiety continue to carve a deep scar on all of our hearts."
The United States has criticized North Korea both for the severity of the sentence and for the secrecy of the judicial proceeding against Mr. Bae, who is at least the sixth American detained in North Korea in the past four years. The others were eventually freed after visits by prominent Americans, including two former presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
The North Koreans have hinted that they might seek to use Mr. Bae as leverage to gain concessions from the Americans. The countries' long-estranged relationship dates from the Korean War 60 years ago. So far, however, Mr. Bae's incarceration, which has been punctuated by some of the most hostile anti-American invective from North Korea under its new leader, Kim Jong-un, has only aggravated the relationship.
Under Mr. Kim -- a grandson of Kim Il-sung, the country's cultlike revolutionary founder -- North Korea has conducted a nuclear test and rocket launching in defiance of international sanctions; threatened the United States, South Korea and Japan with nuclear attack; and restarted a mothballed nuclear reactor that could provide fuel for bombs.
Even as Mrs. Bae was visiting her son, the country's official Korean Central News Agency issued a new warning on Saturday of "all-out war" if the United States did not stop military drills with the South Korean and Japanese navies.
"We emphasize again that the United States must withdraw various measures aimed to isolate and strangulate us," the news agency quoted a spokesman for the National Defense Commission as saying.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 15, 2013 2:01 PM