North Korea 'cancels' US envoy's visit

2011 picture of Kenneth Bae Kenneth Bae was detained in November 2012 after entering North Korea as a tourist

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North Korea has revoked an invitation for a US envoy to travel to Pyongyang to seek the release of an American man, the US state department says.

Robert King, the US special envoy for North Korean rights, was expected make his appeal to release Kenneth Bae, 45, on humanitarian grounds.

Mr Bae, a Korean-American, was given 15 years' hard labour in May.

North Korea said Mr Bae, a Christian missionary and tour operator, used his tourism business to plot sedition.

State department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Friday the US was "surprised and disappointed" by the decision to rescind the envoy's invitation.

"We have sought clarification from the DPRK [North Korea] about its decision and have made every effort so that Ambassador King's trip could continue as planned or take place at a later date," Ms Harf said in a statement.

She added that the US was "gravely concerned" about 45-year-old Mr Bae's health.

Mr King had been expected to travel on Saturday from Tokyo to spend two days in Pyongyang. He will now return to Washington.

"We have not been told that anything is definite," the US envoy said in Japan on Wednesday. "We are going to make an appeal."

US detainees in North Korea

  • Eddie Jun Yong-su: Businessman detained for six months in 2011, freed after a visit led by US envoy Robert King
  • Aijalon Mahli Gomes: Teacher and Christian jailed in 2010 for eight years over illegal entry via China - freed after ex-US President Jimmy Carter visited Pyongyang
  • Robert Park: US activist crossed into North Korea via China in late 2009 - freed in 2010 by North Korea
  • Laura Ling/Euna Lee: Jailed in 2009 for 12 years over illegal entry via the Chinese border - freed after ex-US President Bill Clinton met former NK leader Kim Jong-il

He said Mr Bae "has health problems and we are hopeful that we are going to be able to make progress on that".

Kenneth Bae's family say he is seriously ill and has been moved from a labour camp to a hospital. They say he has diabetes and an enlarged heart.

Mr Bae (known in North Korea as Pae Jun-ho) was arrested in November 2012 as he entered the north-eastern port city of Rason, a special economic zone near North Korea's border with China.

Mr Bae's trial and conviction came at a time of high tension between the US and North Korea, in the wake of the communist state's third nuclear test.

It also came as the US and South Korea conducted annual large-scale military exercises, which angered Pyongyang.

It had been hoped that Mr King's visit could kick-start new contacts between Washington and Pyongyang, says the BBC's Lucy Williamson in Seoul.

North Korea has arrested several US citizens in recent years, including journalists and Christians, accused of proselytising.

They were released after visits to Pyongyang by high-profile officials, including former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

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