Three American citizens detained in North Korea have called for Washington's help in ending their ordeals as they were allowed to hold interviews with the U.S. cable news channel CNN.
The interviews, held in Pyongyang on Monday, were seen as the latest indication that North Korea wants to use the three men -- Kenneth Bae, Matthew Todd Miller and Jeffrey Edward Fowle -- as leverage to reopen dialogue with the United States.
The North has long called for unconditional resumption of negotiations on nuclear and other bilateral issues, but the U.S. and South Korea have demanded that the communist nation first take concrete steps to demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization if negotiations are to restart.
All three Americans said that they want their government to send an envoy to North Korea to help bring them home, just as former President Bill Clinton had visited the North and helped secure the release of two American journalists in 2009, according to CNN.
Bae, a 45-year-old Korean-American Christian missionary, was detained in North Korea in November 2012 for unspecified anti-state crimes. He has been serving 15 years of hard labor after being convicted of the charges last year.
In April, the North announced the arrest of Miller for alleged misbehavior. He was accused of tearing up his tourist visa and seeking asylum upon entry.
In June, the North announced it was holding Fowle, saying he entered the country as a tourist on April 29 and violated the country's law, "contrary to the purpose of tourism during his stay." Fowle was accused of leaving a Bible in a hotel.
Bae told CNN that he is working eight hours a day, six days a week at a labor camp, but said that he has been treated "as humanely as possible."
"Right now what I can say to my friends and family is, continue to pray for me," he told CNN.
Miller also appealed for help, saying his situation is "very urgent."
"The American government is known for having a strong policy of protecting its citizens, yet for my case there is still no movement," he said.
Fowle said he has "no complaints" about his treatment, but asked CNN to convey his "desperate situation." He said that his wife and three elementary school-aged children depend on him for support.
CNN said it was allowed to hold a five-minute interview with each of the three at a hotel in Pyongyang in the presence of North Korean officials. It said it was not able to assess independently the conditions under which the men were being held.
The White House said the U.S. will do all it can to win their release.
"We have seen the reports of interviews with the three American citizens detained in North Korea. Securing the release of U.S.
citizens is a top priority and we have followed these cases closely in the White House," said Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
"We continue to do all we can to secure their earliest possible release," he said.
The State Department urged North Korea to immediately release the detained Americans.
"There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad," a department official said. "We request the DPRK release them so they may return home. We also request the DPRK pardon Kenneth Bae and grant him special amnesty and immediate release so he may reunite with his family and seek medical care."
The official said the U.S. will work actively to secure their release.
The U.S. government is in regular, close coordination with the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang, which serves as protecting power for U.S. interests in North Korea, and the Swedish mission regularly requests consular access to the detained Americans, the official said. (Yonhap)