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The White House has announced it is working to free three American citizens detained in North Korea.

The statement was made in response to a televised appeal by the Americans asking for help from the US government.

Kenneth Bae, 46, has been held in North Korea since 2012 and is currently in a labor camp outside Pyongyang.

Jeffrey Fowle, 56, and Matthew Miller, 24, are charged with violating North Korean law and are awaiting trial.

The three spoke to CNN and the Associated Press on September 1 with North Korea officials present.

Each man was interviewed separately for five minutes in different hotel rooms in the capital Pyongyang.

All asked for a US representative to go to North Korea to make a direct appeal for their release.

Kenneth Bae has been held in North Korea since 2012 and is currently in a labor camp outside Pyongyang

Kenneth Bae has been held in North Korea since 2012 and is currently in a labor camp outside Pyongyang

“We have seen the reports of interviews with the three American citizens detained in North Korea,” White House spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, said in a statement.

“Securing the release of US citizens is a top priority and we have followed these cases closely in the White House. We continue to do all we can to secure their earliest possible release,” he said.

In his interview, Kenneth Bae said he had been hospitalized for health problems which included back pain, a sleep disorder and weight loss.

The Korean American missionary is serving a sentence of 15 years of hard labor in a camp outside Pyongyang after being convicted of trying to overthrow the government.

“The only hope that I have is to have someone from the US come,” Kenneth Bae said.

“But so far, the latest I’ve heard is that there has been no response yet. So I believe that officials here are waiting for that,” he said.

Kenneth Bae said he was not aware he had violated North Korean law and asked for forgiveness.

The other two detainees, Jeffrey Fowle and Matthew Miller, told reporters they expected to face trial within a month, but did not know what the specific charges were against them.

Jeffrey Fowle arrived in North Korea in April and was held when he tried to leave the country, according to North Korean news agency KCNA.

Reports in the Japanese press say Jeffrey Fowle was suspected of leaving a bible in a nightclub in the northern port city of Chongjin. Christian proselytizing is considered a crime in North Korea.

Matthew Miller was also taken into custody in April after he reportedly tore up his tourist visa at the airport and shouted he wanted asylum, according to KCNA.

“I’ve been requesting help for a long time and there’s been no movement from my government,” Matthew Miller told CNN.

Jeffrey Fowle and Matthew Miller have said they expect to face trial within a month. But they said they do not know what punishment they could face or what they are accused of.

North Korea has a history of using detainees as bargaining chips.

In the past, senior US figures including former President Bill Clinton have travelled to the country to ensure the release of Americans.

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