A US envoy is headed to North Korea this week in an attempt to secure the release of Kenneth Bae, the American sentenced to 15 years of hard labor there. Robert King, special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, will fly to Pyongyang Friday at the government's invitation. He'll ask that North Korea "pardon Mr. Bae and grant him special amnesty on humanitarian grounds so that he can be reunited with his family and seek medical treatment," says the State Department in a statement. Bae suffers from diabetes, an enlarged heart, and back and leg pain.
Earlier this month, his sister said Bae had been forced to plow and plant fields, but was eventually transferred to a state hospital due to his health problems. The US has been reluctant to send a high-profile envoy, since Pyongyang typically portrays such visitors as "paying homage" to North Korea and its leader, Reuters reports. But King, though not as high-profile as, say, Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter, has successfully negotiated for the release of one other American citizen detained in the country. He will be the first US administration official to make a public trip to North Korea in more than two years, the AP reports. (Read more Kenneth Bae stories.)