Richardson did not meet US detainee in North Korea

US politician 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 last November and was said by official media to have admitted an unspecified crime against the state.

Bae, an American of Korean descent, was being kept far from the capital Pyongyang and so could not be visited, Richardson told reporters at Beijing airport.

His situation was one of the key themes that the delegation had raised with North Korean officials, added Richardson, a former New Mexico governor and ex-ambassador to the United Nations.

"We expressed concern to the North Korean officials about the American detainee," he said.

"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.

North Korea has in the past agreed to hand over detainees to high-profile delegations led by the likes of former US 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 US State Department voiced concern about Richardson's trip, saying it was ill-timed in the wake of a rocket launch by Pyongyang last month.

The North said its aim was to put a peaceful satellite into orbit, while the US and other nations said the launch was a disguised ballistic missile test.

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