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Bill Clinton leaves N Korea with freed journalists

Last updated on: August 05, 2009 11:23 IST

Former US president Bill Clinton,left Pyongyang Wednesday after securing the release of two female American journalists, who were arrested by North Korean officials, five months ago.

"President Clinton has safely left North Korea with Laura Ling and Euna Lee," said Matt McKenna, spokesman for Bill Clinton. Clinton apologised to Kim Jong-Il for the behaviour of the two women journalists after which they were released, North Korea media reported. "They are en route to Los Angeles where Laura and Euna will be reunited with their families," McKenna said in astatement.

Reporters of the California-based Current TV - a media venture launched by Clinton's former vice president, Al Gore - Laura and Euna were serving 12 years of hard labour imprisonment for allegedly crossing the China-NorthKorea border illegally. In a surprise and unannounced move, Clinton reached Pyongyang on Tuesday to hold talks with the North Korean authorities and seek the release of the two journalists. Clinton also met the North Korean leader Kim Jong II. He was received at the airport by Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator.

Earlier in the day, the White House and the State Department refused to entertain questions related to the visit of Bill Clinton to North Korea. "While this solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans is on the ground, we will have no comment," White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, said in astatement.

The reporters of the California-based Current TV - a media venture launched by Clinton's former vice president Al Gore "are en route to Los Angeles where Laura and Euna will be reunited with their families," McKenna said in a statement. Japanese media reported that they had landed in Japan en route to Los Angeles. A chartered plane carrying Clinton and the two American journalists landed at a US military base in Japan for refuelling.

In a surprise and unannounced move, Clinton reached Pyongyang yesterday to hold talks with the North Korean authorities and seek the release of the two journalists. Clinton met the North Korean leader Kim Jong II. He was received at the airport by Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator. Earlier in the day, the White House and the State Department refused to entertain questions related to the visit of Bill Clinton to North Korea. "While this solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans is on the ground, we will have no comment," White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, said in a statement. A US administration official said today that the North Korean regime had sought a visit by Clinton to their country as a pre-condition to the release of the journalists.

In a background briefing, an administration official said in mid-July, Lee and Ling told family in phone calls that North Korean officials said the pair would be released if Bill Clinton was sent as an envoy, reported Politico. "Overjoyed" by the release, the families of journalists thanked Clinton for the mission and former vice president Al Gore for his "tireless efforts to bring Laura and Euna home". Al Gore also expressed his joy after the journalists employed by the television network he set up were freed. In a joint statement with the network co-founder Joel Hyatt, he paid tribute to their "courage and initiative" during their ordeal in prison.

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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