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For the first time in two years, the State Department is sending an official representative to North Korea in an attempt to broker the release of jailed American citizen Kenneth Bae. Bob King, the special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, will make the trip on Friday. He'll ask the country for a pardon in Bae's case. 

In a statement, the State Department said:

"Ambassador King will request the DPRK pardon Mr. Bae and grant him special amnesty on humanitarian grounds so that he can be reunited with his family and seek medical treatment." 

In July, there were (false) rumors that Jimmy Carter would go to the country, more or less for the same reason. Bae is an American who's been in North Korea's prisons since November. In April, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for "hostile acts" against the country. Before his arrest, Bae was a tour operator and an evangelical missionary. The North Korean government, among other things, has accused Bae of propagating materials in what it believes to be a Christian conspiracy to take over the country. His mission work apparently focused on helping homeless children in the border region near South Korea, whom he also photographed. North Korea wouldn't like that: the pictures were likely of some of the many starving children there. 

According to Bae's family, his health is failing in North Korea. Although the AP reports that Bae was recently hospitalized, the North Korean government wanted the world to know in May that the American is incarcerated in a "special prison," whatever that means (though given the 44-year-old's failing health, one might speculate that the conditions are not conducive to healthy living, at the very least). Until then, most had presumed that Bae was headed to one of the country's run-of-the-mill labor camps. 

King's last trip to North Korea, which included a similar mission, was successful. In 2011, American missionary Eddie Jung came home to the U.S. with King from North Korea. He was freed on humanitarian grounds after requests from the U.S. delegation to the country. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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