Mother of jailed US citizen in N. Korea
A television broadcast in Seoul on May 2, 2013 said to show Kenneth Bae (right), a Korean-American tour operator detained in North Korea
The Chosun Sinbo said that Song Myung-Hee flew into Pyongyang on Thursday for a five day visit to see her ailing son, who is said to have lost more than 50 pounds (23 kilograms) since being jailed and suffering serious health problems.
Bae, a 44-year-old tour operator also known by his Korean name Pae Jun-Ho, was arrested last November as he entered the northeastern port city of Rason.
He was sentenced to 15 years hard labour 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.
In a video released before her departure, Song expressed shock at how ill her son looked during an interview from prison in July.
"I don't know what to expect when I meet my son," she said.
"My heart was broken into pieces when his prison interview was released on July 3 because his appearance was very shocking," she said.
"He looked so different and he lost so much weight. I could not believe that prisoner was my son."
The mother told a Chosun Sinbo reporter in Pyongyang that the US government had accepted her request to visit North Korea. The US embassy in Seoul declined to comment on the reported visit.
North Korea, which strictly bans religious proselytising, has said Bae was a Christian evangelist who brought in "inflammatory" material.
US 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 that her brother had lost more than 50 pounds 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In August, North Korea issued and then rescinded an invitation for US diplomat Robert King to visit Pyongyang for talks on Bae's release.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.
Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said there might have been prior discussions between North Korea and the United States over the mother's trip to Pyongyang.
"Despite its denial, Pyongyang is apparently using Bae's case as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from Washington," he said.
"After all, if there is a positive response from Washington, North Korea will invite an American envoy again for talks on Bae's release and other pending issues."
In the heat of a crisis over its nuclear programme earlier this year, North Korea carried out its third nuclear test and threatened to strike the United States, but tensions have since eased.
Washington has been cool to North Korean overtures to restart talks, saying it is only interested in sitting down if Pyongyang commits to giving up its atomic weapons.
But releasing Bae, something the United States has been seeking for months, could help foster goodwill between the two nations.
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