Tuesday, April 30, 2013

N. Korea holding ex-UO student

APRIL 30,woolington

A former University of Oregon student could face the death penalty in North Korea if he is convicted on charges that he planned to overthrow the North Korean government.

Kenneth Bae, a U.S. tour operator, has been detained by North Korea since early November. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in South Korea but most recently lived in Washington state.

The United States on Monday called on North Korea to release Bae immediately on humanitarian grounds. A State Department spokesman said at a news conference that the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang was able to visit with Bae on Friday.

Bae spent seven terms as a full-time student at the UO between 1988 and 1990, UO spokeswoman Julie Brown said Monday. A psychology major, he earned 75 credits, but not a degree. Brown did not know why Bae left the university.

He registered for classes using his Korean name, Bae Jun-ho.

UO alum Bobby Lee, 44, said he and Bae were "practically roommates" during their years at UO. Lee, now a policy adviser for Gov. John Kitzhaber, said he learned about Bae's detainment after running in the Eugene Marathon on Sunday. "I couldn't believe it," he said.

The two met as freshmen while volunteering for a UO tutoring program for disadvantaged students in 1988.

"He was excited," Lee said of Bae. "He wanted to make friends. He was a very social guy."

The two traveled the Oregon Coast frequently, Lee said. Bae also loved to cook.

"He'd invite everyone to come over," he said. "He'd make us a Korean meal."

Dennis Kwon, 44, also met Bae as a freshman at the UO through the Korean Student Association. The two would set up tables at the Erb Memorial Union at the university's International Night to educate students about South Korean culture. They cooked together and practiced marital arts."He was very compassionate about helping others," Kwon said. "I remember he'd help Korean exchange students adjust to campus life."

Kwon, who graduated from the UO in 1991, was Bae's best man at his wedding in 1990. Bae left the UO soon after to work in California to support his wife, Kwon said.

Although neither Kwon nor Lee kept in touch with Bae after college, they are trying to spread the word about his detainment.

"He's not well-known," Lee said. "He deserves the same level of attention that previous North Korean detainees received. We want people to care."

Lee said he has contacted U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who in January tried to see Bae during a private trip to North Korea but was rebuffed by the government there.

Bae operated a travel company that took tourists and prospective investors to North Korea. He led a group of five European tourists into the country in November, a North Korean human rights activist told The Associated Press, when he was arrested in Rason, a northeastern region of North Korea near the China-Russia border.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency reported on Saturday that Bae was being tried in the country's Supreme Court on charges that he plotted to overthrow the North Korean government.

Although the exact details of his arrest are unknown, the Korean news agency asserted that Bae admitted his guilt and that the charges are backed by evidence — a crime punishable by death in North Korea.

South Korean human rights advocates have described Bae as a devout Christian who not only ran tours to North Korea but was interested in helping orphans in the communist country. They said security officials in the North may have been offended by pictures of orphans that Bae had taken and stored in his computer.

North Korea, a police state, has often used the plight of detained Americans as a bargaining chip in its dealings with Washington. Some were freed only after former U.S. presidents traveled to the North. Bae is the sixth American detained by North Korea since 2009, but he is facing the gravest charges.

The North has been locked in a standoff with the United States and South Korea since it detonated a nuclear bomb in February.
News From: http://www.7StarNews.com

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