SEOUL, South Korea — The mother of an American missionary jailed in North Korea has arrived in the reclusive state to meet her ailing son in hospital, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper said Friday.
The mother, identified by her Korean name Song Myung Hee, flew into Pyongyang at 5:15 p.m. Thursday for a five-day visit to see her imprisoned son Kenneth Bae, the Japan-published Chosun Sinbo said.
Bae, a 44-year-old tour operator and missionary, whose Korean name is Pae Jun Ho, was arrested last November as he entered the northeastern port city of Rason.
He was sentenced to 15 years hard labor on charges that he was trying to topple the regime of its young leader Kim Jong Un.
He was transferred from a prison camp to a hospital in Pyongyang on August 5, said the newspaper, which normally speaks for the regime in the North.
North Korea, which strictly bans religious proselytizing, has said Bae was a Christian evangelist who brought in "inflammatory" material.
U.S. officials say Bae is now very sick, and have called for his release as a humanitarian gesture.
Bae's sister Terri Chung said earlier that her brother had lost more than 50 pounds (23 kilograms) and had problems with his kidneys and liver.
Bae was sentenced at a time of heightened military tensions on the Korean peninsula, leading to suggestions that Pyongyang hoped to use him as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from Washington.
In August, North Korea issued and then rescinded an invitation for U.S. diplomat Robert King to visit Pyongyang for talks on Bae's release.
The North has staunchly denied that the hefty jail sentence was crafted as a diplomatic bargaining chip, and indicated that it wanted policy changes, not diplomacy, from Washington to secure Bae's freedom.
North Korea has in the past freed detained Americans after visits from high-level emissaries such as former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.