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 North Korea Says Kim Personally Ordered Release of Detained American Jeffrey Fowle

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PostSubject: North Korea Says Kim Personally Ordered Release of Detained American Jeffrey Fowle   Wed Oct 22, 2014 9:47 am

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Wednesday that its leader, Kim Jong-un, had personally ordered the release of Jeffrey E. Fowle, one of three Americans recently detained in the isolated country, after considering requests from President Obama.

Mr. Fowle, an Ohio municipal worker, had been held for nearly six months until Tuesday, when an American military plane picked him up. He arrived Wednesday in Ohio, where he was reunited with his wife and three children, who ran to greet him after he landed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.

The family released a statement of thanks to those who tried to get Mr. Fowle released, adding that he wanted people to know that the North Korean government had treated him well.

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Jeffrey E. Fowle of Miamisburg, Ohio, entered North Korea in April on a tourist visa.Jeffrey Fowle, American Held by North Korea, Is FreedOCT. 21, 2014
The statement also said that although the family was “overjoyed” by his return, they were mindful that two other Americans, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller, were being held “and understand the disappointment their families are experiencing today that their loved ones did not return home with Jeff.”

Mr. Fowle’s release was a move few had expected.

In early September, Mr. Fowle and two other Americans imprisoned for what North Korea called anti-state crimes appeared in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, for government-arranged interviews with American news media in which they beseeched Washington to send a high-profile envoy to negotiate their freedom.

But United States officials said Pyongyang had repeatedly rejected their offer to send a high-level representative.

Mr. Kim “took into consideration the repeated request from President Obama of the United States and took a special step to free the American criminal Jeffrey Edward Fowle,” the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said on Wednesday in a dispatch monitored by the South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Mr. Kim recently reappeared in state-run media after a six-week absence, ending widespread speculation about his health and his grip on power. With the statement on Wednesday, North Korea appeared to be burnishing Mr. Kim’s image at home as a leader capable of doing a favor for the American president. At the same time, outside analysts began wondering whether the sudden release of Mr. Fowle was a conciliatory gesture from Mr. Kim to bolster his government’s efforts to engage Washington in a dialogue.

The report was the North’s first public comment on the circumstances surrounding Mr. Fowle’s release. Washington has not offered an explanation, except for thanking the Swedish government, which maintains an embassy in Pyongyang and has represented the interests of Americans held in the North. Washington has no diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, and the two sides remain technically at war after the Korean War was halted in 1953 in a truce.

Mr. Fowle, 56, of Miamisburg, Ohio, was released while he was awaiting trial on charges of committing an anti-state crime. He entered North Korea in late April on a tourist visa and was arrested in May after leaving a Bible at a bar. North Korea considers any attempt to disseminate Christian messages by an outsider a crime aimed at undermining its political system.

The statement released by the family gave thanks to God “for his hand of protection over Jeff these past 6 months and for providing strength and peace over his family in his absence.”

Mr. Bae, one of the Americans still being held, was arrested in late 2012 and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on charges of trying to build an underground proselytizing network in a plot to overthrow the government in Pyongyang. Last month, the North’s Supreme Court convicted the other American, Mr. Miller, on spying charges and sentenced him to six years of hard labor.

North Korea later said that Mr. Miller, 25, of Bakersfield, Calif., had entered the country hoping to be arrested and become an eyewitness to prison life in the country. It said that Mr. Miller had torn up his tourist visa upon arriving in Pyongyang in April so that his unruly behavior could land him in a prison camp, where he hoped to collect evidence of human rights violations.

The detention of the three Americans strained North Korea’s already rocky relations with Washington, which has been trying to isolate the country with the help of United Nations sanctions imposed for the North’s development and testing of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

Washington accused Pyongyang of holding the Americans as “pawns” — human bargaining chips who could force the United States to make concessions, such as taking part in bilateral talks, which the North has long sought.

Following Mr. Fowle’s release, Washington urged North Korea to free the remaining two Americans. However, from the North Korean point of view, Mr. Fowle’s alleged crime was less offensive than the charges leveled against Mr. Bae and Mr. Miller.

In the past, North Korea has freed American detainees only after high-profile Americans, including former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, have visited Pyongyang to secure their release. But it has also released detainees without such a visit.

Last December, the North freed an 85-year-old American tourist, Merrill E. Newman of Palo Alto, Calif., after more than a month of captivity. The North had accused him of war crimes after learning that Mr. Newman, a Korean War veteran, had helped train anti-Communist guerrillas during the war. But it cited Mr. Newman’s age, 85 at the time, as a reason for releasing him.

It also expelled Robert Park, a Korean-American Christian activist, in 2010. Mr. Park entered the country in December 2009 to draw international attention to the North’s poor human rights record.

Mr. Fowle’s release came at a time when North Korea appears to be seeking a thaw in its relations with its neighbors after years of escalating tensions, marked by the nuclear and missile tests.

A high-ranking delegation from the North made a surprise visit to South Korea early this month and agreed to resume high-level inter-Korean dialogue, although the two Koreas later exchanged fire across their land and sea borders. North Korea has also agreed to investigate the fates of Japanese citizens allegedly kidnapped by its agents decades ago.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/23/world/asia/north-korea-jeffrey-fowle-kim-jong-un.html
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