Freed North Korea detainee focuses on food, family

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2014 8:52 AM
Freed North Korea detainee focuses on food, family

SEATTLE (AP) — Rest, food and family are on the top of Kenneth Bae's list since arriving home this weekend after years of imprisonment in North Korea.

His sister said he hasn't spoken about his ordeal yet, but family and friends reconnected late Saturday night over pizza.

"Our family loves food, so we talked a lot about food," Terri Chung said Sunday outside her Seattle church. They didn't ask him a lot of questions. "We mostly wanted to hear from him."

She said her brother had one stipulation for his first meal back home: No Korean food.

"He said, 'I don't want Korean food, that's all I've been eating for the last two years,'" Chung said.

Bae and Matthew Miller, another American who had been held captive in North Korea, landed Saturday night at a Washington state military base after a top U.S. intelligence official secured their release.

"It's been an amazing two years, I learned a lot, I grew a lot, I lost a lot of weight," Bae, a Korean-American missionary with health problems, said Saturday night after arriving at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. Asked how he was feeling, he said, "I'm recovering at this time."

Bae, surrounded by family members, spoke briefly to the media after the plane carrying him and Miller landed. He thanked President Barack Obama and the people who supported him and his family. He also thanked the North Korean government for releasing him.

Chung said Bae was in better shape when he arrived than his family expected. The family has said he suffers from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and back pain. He had spent about six weeks in a North Korean hospital before his return, his sister said.

"That helped. As you know, he had gone back and forth between the labor camp and hospital," she said, adding a doctor checked him on the flight back to the United States.

His plans for the near future include rest, food and reconnecting with friends and family. Neither his wife nor his children could make it back to Seattle in time for Bae's homecoming, but the whole family plans to gather for Thanksgiving, Chung said.

Members of Bae's family, who live near the sprawling military base south of Seattle, met him when he landed Saturday. His mother hugged him after he got off the plane. Miller stepped off the U.S. government aircraft a short time later and also was greeted with hugs.

U.S. officials said Miller of Bakersfield, California, and Bae of Lynnwood, Washington, flew back with James Clapper, the director of national intelligence. Clapper was the highest-ranking American to visit Pyongyang in more than a decade.

Their release was the latest twist in the fitful relationship between the Obama administration and the young North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, whose approach to the U.S. has shifted back and forth from defiance to occasional conciliation.

Bae was serving a 15-year sentence for alleged anti-government activities. He was detained in 2012 while leading a tour group to a North Korea economic zone.

Miller was serving a six-year jail term on charges of espionage after he allegedly ripped up his tourist visa at Pyongyang's airport in April and demanded asylum. North Korea said Miller had wanted to experience prison life so he could secretly investigate the country's human rights situation.

Bae and Miller were the last two Americans detained by the reclusive Communist country.

Last month, North Korea released Jeffrey Fowle of Miamisburg, Ohio, who was held for nearly six months. He had left a Bible in a nightclub in the hope that it would reach North Korea's underground Christian community.

Speaking Sunday, Chung said her brother was enjoying visiting with loved ones.

"He was cut off from all of that for two years," she said. "His only contacts were his guard, and maybe doctors and a handful of times, the Swedish Embassy."

Chung said Bae "bears no ill will" over his ordeal and still has warm feelings for the North Korean people. He hasn't told them many details, and Chung said she remains worried about her brother.

She thanked people around the world for their prayers and government officials and others for advocating for Bae's release.

"First and foremost we thank God," Chung said, adding soon afterward: "I have to thank President Obama."

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Associated Press writers Manuel Valdes, Ken Dilanian, Matthew Pennington, AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee, White House Correspondent Julie Pace, AP writer Nedra Pickler, AP National Security Writer Lara Jakes in Muscat, Oman, and AP writer John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, contributed to this report.