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Ex-detainee in North Korea looks back on 735 days of 'hope' in memoir

All News 13:47 June 01, 2016

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, June 1 (Yonhap) -- A former Korean-American detainee on Wednesday called for continued interest in the North Korean people and their predicament on humanitarian grounds.

Kenneth Bae, the longest-serving American prisoner detained by the North for two years, said the time he spent in the world's most closed nation reinforced his belief in the need to not forget the people who live an isolated, controlled life, totally cut off from the outside world.

"While I lived there and watched the people closely, I realized we should separate ordinary North Koreans from the regime," he said during a press event in a church in central Seoul to mark the release of the Korean version of his evangelical memoir "Not Forgotten." The English version was published early last month by Thomas Nelson, a publishing company specializing in Christian books.

The missionary who operated guided tours to North Korea from China was arrested on Nov. 3, 2012, on the first day of his 18th visit to the country, for allegedly trying to overthrow it.

In April 2013, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor and remained behind bars until he was released on Nov. 9, 2014.

In the meeting with reporters, he introduced a few episodes that showed the total ignorance of the people about the outside world. Many people he met there believed the majority of South Koreans and Americans live in poverty, and few believe that the U.N. secretary-general is Korean, he said.

"It was different from what we are hearing now that a lot of North Koreans have been already exposed to South Korean news," he said. "Most people were kept in the total dark and didn't know anything about the outside world at all," he said, adding that the regime looked much firmer than he had previously thought.

For the two years he remained in captivity, a sense of being remembered and people praying for him helped him immensely endure the difficult times, he said.

Among the 735 days that he defined as "hope," the most difficult day was Dec. 12, 2012, when North Korea fired a satellite in a veiled attempt to test a ballistic missile.

"I was devastated to see North Korean officials erupt in joy over the launch. A thought struck me that they weren't going to release me anytime soon," he said.

Although he wouldn't be able to go back to his past missionary works in China and North Korea, he wants to help the North Korean people in any way possible.

"I want to help North Korean escapees settle in the South, or help connect the North and the outside world by, for example, establishing an NGO."


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