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Imprisoned Kenneth Bae must serve his 15 years hard labor: North Korea envoy

Kyodo / Reuters

Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary who has been detained in North Korea for more than a year, meets a limited number of media outlets in Pyongyang on Jan. 20.

North Korea will not release imprisoned American missionary Kenneth Bae until he finishes his sentence of 15 years hard labor, according to a rare interview with a Pyongyang diplomat.

Bae was leading a tour group in the secretive state in Nov. 2012 when he was arrested and jailed for so-called anti-government acts.

North Korea's ambassador to the United Kingdom, Hyun Hak-bong, told Sky News on Thursday that Bae was being treated well but suggested that he would not be pardoned before his sentence was complete.

"I cannot interfere into the legal system," Hyun said. "When the judgement is done, then it is done.

"Sometimes there's occasions for a pardon but I don't know and I cannot predict that Kenneth Bae will be pardoned or not. He should finish his term – that is all – according to crimes against DPR [Democratic People's Republic of] Korea."

Bae was moved to a hospital last summer after his health deteriorated. Hyun denied Bae was being kept in a labor camp, despite describing his sentence as "hard labor," and said he had been given access to medicine.

Hyun went further, denying the existence of labor camps in North Korea altogether. This contradicts considerable evidence by human rights groups that hundreds of thousands of people are being made to work in inhumane conditions in these camps.

Bae held a press conference under guard earlier this month in which he appealed to the United States government to do more for his release.

Hyun said this press conference was called at Bae’s request and that if the media and the United States continued to spread "misinformation" it would make the detention "more difficult."

His appearance came weeks after North Korea freed 85-year-old Merrill Newman, an elderly American veteran who had been held for weeks for alleged crimes during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Basketball star Dennis Rodman apologized for comments during his latest trip to Pyongyang suggesting that Bae’s detention was his own fault.

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