SEOUL -- The mother of imprisoned American Kenneth Bae said Friday that her son "did not look bad" after she was allowed into North Korea to visit him.
Bae's family had expressed concern about his failing health in recent months. Over the summer, he was transferred from a prison camp to a hospital for foreigners in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
His mother, Myunghee Bae, was allowed to visit him there Friday for the first since he was sentenced to 15 years hard labor. She told Japan's Kyodo News service in Pyongyang that her son said his heath still "is not so good" but "has gotten much better."
Kennth Bae, a tour guide and evangelist, was arrested upon entering the North Korean city of Rason in November. He was charged with hostile acts against the state" and put on trial.
Before his mother left Washington state for Pyongyang, she appeared in a video and pleaded for his release.
"My heart was broken into pieces when his prison interview was released on July 3 because his appearance was very shocking," she said in the video. "He looked so different, and he lost so much weight. I could not believe that prisoner was my son."
The United States has appealed to Pyongyang to grant amnesty and release Bae. But regional analysts believe that North Korea wants to use him as a bargaining chip to open dialogue with the U.S.
"Granting Myunghee Bae's visit to Pyongyang could be seen as their effort to make a friendly gesture to the U.S.," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, a South Korean think tank.
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[For the record 5:23 p.m. PST, Feb. 19, 2014: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Kenneth Bae was sentenced to 15 months of hard labor. He is serving a 15-year sentence.]