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Richardson did not see American detainee Bae

AFP-JIJI

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who returned Thursday from a controversial visit to North Korea, said he did not meet a detained American whose case he had cited as part of the reason for the trip.

But Richardson said he was given assurances about the good health of Kenneth Bae, 44, who was arrested in November and was said by official media to have admitted to an unspecified crime against the state.

Bae, an American of Korean descent, is said to be in detention far from the capital Pyongyang, and so could not be visited, Richardson said at Beijing airport.

His situation was one of the key themes the delegation raised with North Korean officials, added Richardson, who was also Washington’s ex-ambassador to the United Nations.

“We were informed that his health was good and that the judicial proceedings would start soon. That is encouraging.”

Richardson was given permission to pass on a letter from Bae’s son “and that will happen shortly”, he added.

The North has in the past agreed to hand over detainees to high-profile delegations led by the likes of former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Richardson told reporters the key topics under discussion during his visit with Google Chairman Eric Schmidt were “tension in the peninsula”, Internet freedom and Bae’s detention.

The U.S. State Department voiced concern about Richardson’s trip, saying it was ill-timed in the wake of a rocket launch by Pyongyang last month.

Pyongyang said that its aim was to put a peaceful satellite into orbit, while the U.S., Japan and other nations said the launch was a disguised ballistic missile test.