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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

North Korea unexpectedly frees US citizen Jeffrey Fowle

North Korea has freed Jeffrey Fowle, one of three United States citizens detained by the country, and he is being flown home to his family in Ohio, the White house said today.

Spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States welcomed the move, but pressed Pyongyang to free the two remaining individuals.

"While this is a positive decision ... we remain focused on the continued detention of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller and again call on the DPRK to immediately release them," Earnest said, referring to the country's official name of Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The United States will continue to work actively on those cases, he added.

Fowle, 56, a street repair worker from Miamisburg, Ohio, was arrested in May for leaving a Bible at a sailor's club in the North Korean city of Chongjin, where he was traveling as a tourist. The communist state is particularly sensitive to religious proselytizing.

Miller was arrested in April for a separate incident. The longest to be held by North Korea is Bae, a Korean-American missionary arrested in November 2012 and sentenced to 15 years hard labor.

North Korea made it a condition of Fowle's release that the US government transport him out of the country and set a time for him to be picked up, US officials said.

"In this time frame the Department of Defense was able to offer a plane," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters when asked if a military aircraft was used.

Passengers on another flight at Pyongyang airport reported seeing a blue and white US military passenger jet, a stars-and-stripes emblem on its tail, parked on the tarmac on Tuesday afternoon, a source in Pyongyang told Reuters.

It was not immediately clear why reclusive North Korea decided to free Fowle. Washington has long insisted that the release of the prisoners should be unconditional and not linked to talks on North Korea's disputed nuclear program.

Victor Cha, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the release was a surprise and might signal a warming diplomatic trend.

"It is a surprising decision by the North Koreans, given their very inflexible stance over the past several months," Cha said.

"In North Korean eyes, Jeffrey Fowle's offenses may have been seen as the least severe (of the three US prisoners) and therefore excusable."

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Tags:  North Korea  Fowle  freed  US  Ohio  





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