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Originally published Sunday, January 26, 2014 at 4:04 PM

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Editorial: D.C. needs to do more to free Kenneth Bae

U.S. State Department officials must keep up efforts to free American tour operator Kenneth Bae, who has been in North Korea longer than any other U.S. citizen in recent history.

Seattle Times Editorial

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AMERICAN prisoner Kenneth Bae wants the U.S. government to help get him out of North Korea. The former Lynnwood resident issued his plearecently in a news conference, the first time authorities there have let him speak to reporters.

The United States has tried and should keep trying. The State Department's special envoy for human-rights issues, Ambassador Robert King, was invited to Pyongyang last August to negotiate for Bae’s freedom. The regime rescinded its offer at the last minute.

Under heavy guard and wearing a gray uniform with the number 103 on his chest, Bae apologized for his crimes. He also revealed he might soon be returned to prison after months of treatment in a hospital for various ailments.

The 45-year-old tour operator’s nightmare began in November 2012 while he was escorting five Europeans into North Korea. Bae was detained, then sentenced to 15 years in a labor camp for “hostile acts” against the government.

Speaking on CNN Wednesday morning, Bae’s mother and sister from Washington state expressed fears that anything they say about this latest prison video may be misconstrued by the North Koreans.

They echoed Bae’s apology and said they are worried about his health. His wife and three kids need him home.

For months, U.S. officials maintain they’ve worked with the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang and requested amnesty for Bae on humanitarian grounds. An offer to send an envoy still stands.

The U.S. government should also consider what’s worked in the past, too. On separate occasions, former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton traveled to North Korea to bring home American prisoners.

Last month, Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran and tourist, was released after he confessed (under duress) to crimes committed during his time serving in the U.S. military.

The North Koreans could show the same mercy to Kenneth Bae, but they may need a stronger nudge from Washington, D.C.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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