December 12, 2017
Sunday, November 9, 2014

Two US prisoners freed by North Korea return home

Kenneth Bae (L) reunites with his family at U.S. Air Force Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Fort Lewis, Washington.

Two Americans freed from secretive North Korea stepped off a plane into the welcoming arms of family after the surprise involvement of the top-ranking US intelligence official who traveled to Pyongyang to bring them home.

Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller, who had been doing hard labor for months in North Korea, were accompanied on their journey home by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, a senior US official said. Their release comes less than three weeks after another American was freed by Pyongyang.

The two men arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma in Washington state on a Boeing C-40 Clipper aircraft bearing the words "United States of America."

A smiling Bae exited the aircraft and in an emotional reunion on the tarmac greeted his mother, sister, brother-in-law and two young nieces. Miller followed minutes later and also hugged family members. Both men had close-cropped hair.

Bae, 46, a Korean-American missionary from Lynnwood north of Seattle, was arrested in North Korea in November 2012 and sentenced to 15 years' hard labor for crimes against the state. Miller, in his mid-20s, was reportedly convicted on an espionage charge and in custody since April, serving a six-year hard labor sentence.

Bae thanked President Barack Obama and the North Korean government for his freedom and said he appreciated the thoughts and prayers of people who supported him.

"It’s been an amazing two years, I learned a lot, I grew a lot, lost a lot of weight - in a good way - but I’m standing strong because of you and thank you for being there in such time as this," Bae said at a news conference.

When asked about his health, Bae said he was still recovering. His family had expressed concern about his wellbeing during his detention, saying he had diabetes, an enlarged heart, deteriorating vision and back and leg pains. Miller did not speak to reporters.

The United States had frequently called for the men to be freed for humanitarian reasons, especially given Bae's health problems.

CNN reported the North Korean government issued a statement about the release, saying it received an "earnest apology" from Obama for the men's actions. It also said the two were "sincerely repentant of their crimes and (were) behaving themselves while serving their terms."

According to the statement, the first chairman of North Korea's National Defense Commission, the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, ordered the release.

North Korea, already under international sanctions for its nuclear and missile programs, has been on a diplomatic campaign to counter charges by a U.N. body that highlighted widespread human rights abuses and a move by some U.N. members to refer the state to an international tribunal. But it was not clear what prompted Pyongyang to free the two men at this time.

Their release did not constitute an opening in relations with North Korea, said a senior State Department official, who declined to be identified. The official said for that to happen, Pyongyang must fulfill its commitments on denuclearization and human rights.

"He (Clapper) was not there to negotiate. And our position hasn't changed."

The men were released just hours before Obama was to start a trip to Asia that will include talks with Chinese leaders about how Beijing can use its influence with North Korea to rein in its nuclear weapons program, US officials have said.

"It's a wonderful day for them and their families," Obama said at the White House. "Obviously we are very grateful for their safe return and I appreciate Director Clapper doing a great job on what was obviously a challenging mission."

A senior US official said: "The DNI (Clapper) did carry a brief message from the President indicating that Director Clapper was his personal envoy to bring the two Americans home."

Bae's delighted son, Jonathan, said from Arizona that he received a call Friday night and spoke to his father.

"One minute he was doing farm labor and the next minute they are saying, 'You are going home.' Just like everyone else, he was surprised," he said.

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Tags:  North Korea  US  prisoners  release  return  Kenneth Bae  Matthew Todd Miller  World  

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