North Korea releases two detained Americans: State Dept

AFP , Saturday 8 Nov 2014

Two Americans serving lengthy prison sentences in North Korea were released on Saturday by the reclusive state following a secret mission to Pyongyang by US intelligence chief James Clapper, the State Department announced.

Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller were the last two American nationals held by North Korea following the sudden release last month of 56-year-old Jeffrey Fowle.

A senior State Department official said Saturday there had been no "quid pro quo" deal in exchange for North Korea's decision to release Bae and Miller.

"The Department of State welcomes the release of US citizens Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller from the DPRK, where they have been held for two years and seven months, respectively," a statement said.

US Director of National Intelligence Clapper traveled to North Korea and "engaged on behalf of the United States in discussions with DPRK authorities about the release of two citizens," the statement said.

"The safety and welfare of US citizens abroad is the Department of State's highest priority, and the United States has long called on DPRK authorities to release these individuals on humanitarian grounds. We join their families and friends in welcoming them home."

President Barack Obama, speaking just hours before leaving for a swing through Asia, hailed the release of the two men as "wonderful."

"I think it is a wonderful day for them and their families and obviously we are very grateful for their safe return," he said.

Bae, a Korean-American missionary, earlier this week marked the two-year anniversary of his detention by the reclusive state.

The sickly 42-year-old was arrested in November 2012 and later sentenced to 15 years' hard labor.

Miller, 24, had been sentenced to six years' hard labor by the North Korean Supreme Court following his arrest in April, after he allegedly ripped up his visa at immigration and demanded asylum.

Washington had condemned Pyongyang over the detentions, saying the Americans were held as political hostages to extract diplomatic concessions.

North Korea has expressed interest in the past in reviving six-party talks with the US and others about its nuclear programme, but Washington and insist Pyongyang must first show a tangible commitment to denuclearisation.

A State Department official said Saturday the release of Bae and Miller did not reflect a shift in posture over the mothballed nuclear negotiations.

"North Korea knows what it needs to do if it wants a better relationship with the international community and wants to end its isolation and pariah status," the official told AFP.

"North Korea must show it is serious and prepared to abide by its commitments, particularly concerning denuclearization. And they must take significant steps to improve their human rights record.

"The release of our citizens is unrelated."

As recently as Tuesday, North Korea was maintaining its defiant stance, ruling out dialogue with the United States about its nuclear program and human rights record and accusing the US of trying to destroy its system.

The North "will never allow any human rights dialogue or nuclear one with the enemy keen to overthrow it", a foreign ministry spokesman said through the official Korean Central News Agency.

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