Congressmen urge N Korea to free Bae

Washington - The last surviving members of the US Congress to have served in the Korean War have sent a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un asking him to release imprisoned American missionary Kenneth Bae.

“You have done the right thing by releasing a fellow Korean War veteran, Merrill E. Newman, to return home, you would be making further progress on the humanitarian front by freeing Kenneth Bae to reunite with his family,” stated a copy of the letter obtained by Reuters.

Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary who has been detained in North Korea for more than a year, appears before a limited number of journalists in Pyongyang on January 20, 2014. Picture: North Korea's Korean Central News Agency. Credit: Reuters

The congressmen, Democrat Charles Rangel from New York, Democrat John Conyers Jr. from Michigan, Republican Sam Johnson from Texas and Republican Howard Coble from North Carolina, are members of the House of Representatives.

Bae, 45, has been held for more than a year after being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. North Korean authorities said the Christian missionary was trying to overthrow the state. Rangel invited Bae's family to sit with him at President Barack Obama's state of the union speech last month.

The letter was dated Tuesday and came as North and South Korea agreed to allow some families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War to hold brief reunions, despite a campaign by Pyongyang demanding that Seoul cancel planned war games with the United States.

In their letter, the four members of Congress urged Kim Jong-un to extend the reunion effort to Korean-Americans.

“Nothing is more tragic than the separation of families and loved ones,” the letter stated. “We encourage you to also create a pathway to allow some 100 000 Korean-Americans to meet with their divided families in the (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) before too many pass away.”