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(2nd LD) Freed American leaves N. Korea with former U.S. President Carter

All Headlines 15:28 August 27, 2010

(ATTN: ADDS U.S. State Department statement; FIXES Carter's arrival date in para 2; RECASTS headline, lead; RESTRUCTURES)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Aug. 27 (Yonhap) - Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter flew out of Pyongyang on Friday with an American citizen who had been detained in the communist country since January after winning his release.

Carter arrived in the North Korean capital two days ago on what the U.S. government called "a private humanitarian mission" and gained a special pardon for Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who was sentenced in May to eight years of labor and fined about US$700,000 for illegal entry.

The North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in its English dispatch that Carter apologized to Kim Yong-nam, North Korea's nominal head of state, for Gomes' actions "on behalf of the government of the U.S." and requested his release.

"After receiving a report on the request made by the U.S. government and Carter, (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-il issued an order of the chairman of the DPRK National Defense Commission on granting amnesty to Gomes," the report said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"The measure taken by the DPRK to set free the illegal entrant is a manifestation of its humanitarianism and peace-loving policy."

The KCNA report also said Kim reiterated the North's will "for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the resumption of the six-party talks," referring to the long-stalled multilateral forum aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

It didn't elaborate how Carter responded.

Although the U.S. fended off any suggestion that its former president was on an official mission, Carter's trip was seen as an opportunity to ease tension stemming from stalled denuclearization talks and the March sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on Pyongyang.

Carter apparently did not meet the top North Korean leader, who abruptly went to China on the day of Carter's arrival. The KCNA report did not mention any meetings between them.

The North's report said, however, that Carter's trip "provided a favorable occasion of deepening the understanding and building confidence between the two countries."

The U.S. State Department welcomed Gomes' release and expressed appreciation to Carter for his efforts.

It again stressed that Carter's trip was "unofficial," and that "the U.S. government did not propose or arrange the trip.

"The former president traveled at the invitation of the DPRK government," it said.

The State Department also issued a travel warning on North Korea for American citizens, saying, "The U.S. and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations and as the case of Mr. Gomes illustrates, travel to North Korea is not routine or risk-free."

Gomes, who formerly taught English in South Korea, entered North Korea through China.


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