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North Korea pardons two US journalists after Kim Jong-il's meeting with former President Bill Clinton

North Korea pardons two US journalists after Kim Jong-il's meeting with former President Bill Cllinton
US journalists Laura Ling (L) and Euna Lee (2nd R) head to a chartered plane at an airport in Pyongyang August 5, 2009 in this photo released by China's official Xinhua News Agency. North Korea said on Wednesday it had pardoned the two jailed American journalists after former US President Bill Clinton met the reclusive state's leader Kim Jong-il, a move some analysts said could pave the way to direct nuclear disarmament talks.

North Korea on Tuesday released two jailed American journalists after a visit from former US President Bill Clinton in the highest-level US contact with North Korea since Clinton was president nearly a decade ago, Reuters has reported.

North Korea's KCNA news agency said North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had issued a special pardon to the two journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling of US media outlet Current TV, which was co-founded by Clinton's vice president Al Gore.

Clinton was the highest-level American to visit North Korea since his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, went there in 2000. He was greeted warmly on his arrival and had what North Korea's KCNA news agency described as an "exhaustive conversation" over dinner with ailing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his top aides.

The White House denied a report by North Korea's news agency KCNA that said Clinton had carried a message to North Korea from US President Barack Obama. "That's not true," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters in Washington. Obama adviser David Axelrod told MSNBC that Clinton was on a "private humanitarian mission" and that "I don't think it's related to other issues."

The two journalists were arrested on the North Korea-China border in March and accused of illegal entry. A North Korean court sentenced both of them last month to 12 years hard labor for what it called grave crimes.

On June 8, a court sentenced the Current TV journalists to 12 years' labour for illegally entering North Korea and committing unspecified "hostile acts" while reporting near the border with China.

"We welcome the news that Euna Lee and Laura Ling will be pardoned and released after more than four months in detention," said Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "This has been a long and complex process given the situation on the Korean peninsula. We thank former President Clinton for his intervention and we are grateful that the North Korean authorities have responded to appeals for clemency. We know that the families of these two reporters will be relieved to have their loved ones back home."

North Korean media announced Clinton's surprise arrival in the capital early this morning, according to international news reports. He met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for dinner, the reports said. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs characterized the trip as a private effort on behalf of Ling and Lee, and not an official diplomatic mission, according to the reports.

North Korean border guards arrested Ling and Lee more than four months ago while they were preparing a report on North Korean refugees escaping to China for California-based Current TV. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appealed to North Korea to show leniency in July.

Date posted: August 5, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 225