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Americans detained in North Korea appeal for help

Three US citizens held in North Korea pleaded on Monday (Sep 1) for help to secure their release but said they have been well treated in the hardline communist country.

SEOUL: Three US citizens held in North Korea pleaded on Monday (Sep 1) for help to secure their release but said they have been well treated in the hardline communist country.

"Continue to pray for me," Kenneth Bae, the longest-held detainee, said in a message to family and friends, asking them to work for his release. Bae told the network he was working eight hours a day, six days a week at a labour camp, but added he had been treated "as humanely as possible".

Bae, Jeffrey Fowle and Matthew Miller were speaking to CNN at a hotel in Pyongyang. Bae was arrested in November 2012 and later sentenced to 15 years' hard labour on charges of seeking to topple the North Korean government. Fowle, 56, entered the North on April 29 and was arrested after reportedly leaving a Bible at a hotel. He said he has "no complaints" about his treatment.

"It's been very good so far, and I hope and pray that it continues, while I'm here two more days or two more decades," he said. Fowle suggested former US presidents Bill Clinton or George Bush should be dispatched as special envoys for talks with Pyongyang on his release. "I'm good for the time being, but I need to let people know that I'm getting desperate, I'm getting desperate for help," he said.


This handout photo of Jeffrey Fowle was obtained on June 10, 2014, courtesy of The City of Moraine, Ohio. (AFP/Handout)

Miller, 24, was arrested in April after he apparently ripped up his visa at the immigration and demanded asylum. North Korea said in July it would put Miller and Fowle on trial on unspecified charges related to "perpetrating hostile acts".

Miller pleaded for help from the US government. "My situation is very urgent, that very soon I am going to trial, and I would directly be sent to prison," he said, adding he would not learn the charges until he goes on trial.

All three men said they signed statements admitting their guilt, CNN reported. Bae began serving his sentence since May 2013. "I've been the only prisoner in the camp for the last year and a half. I didn't have anybody else in the camp other than the guard," he said. North Korea, which tightly controls religious expression, accused Bae of being a militant Christian evangelist and charged him with seeking to topple the regime.

In an interview published in July, Bae - photographed in a prison uniform with the number 103 on his chest - said he felt abandoned by US authorities. At that time he said he was suffering from serious lung and liver ailments. Bae's family has voiced fear that he is being used as a bargaining chip by North Korea.

The US special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, Robert King, has twice tried to visit the North to secure Bae's release, only for Pyongyang to cancel at the last minute on both occasions. Last month, a representative from Sweden, which handles US interests in the North, visited Bae at his labour camp.