Bill Clinton secured the release of two American journalists from a North Korean prison last night after a meeting with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang.
Laura Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36, were making a television documentary about North Korean refugees for former vice-president Al Gore’s Current TV when they were detained on the border between North Korea and China in March. Last month, a court in Pyongyang sentenced them to 12 years of “reform through labour” for their “grave crime”. Miss Ling is reported to have told her sister in a telephone call: “Look, we violated North Korean law and we need our government to help us.” But now the story will conclude with a happy ending as the pair is due to fly home with Bill Clinton after Kim Jong-il issued a “special pardon” for the pair.
North Korean media has confirmed that leader Kim Jong Il issued a “special pardon” for two American journalists and ordered their release at former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s request. The move to release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor, reflected North Korea’s “humanitarian and peaceloving policy,” the Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch from Pyongyang early Wednesday. “Clinton expressed words of sincere apology to Kim Jong Il for the hostile acts committed by the two American journalists against the DPRK after illegally intruding into it,” reported news agencies. “Clinton courteously conveyed to Kim Jong Il an earnest request of the U.S. government to leniently pardon them and send them back home from a humanitarian point of view.” The report said Clinton then conveyed a message from President Obama “expressing profound thanks for this and reflecting views on ways of improving the relations between the two countries.” DPRK is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the nation’s official name.
Clinton landed in the North Korean capital on Tuesday on a quiet mission to negotiate the freedom of the two. During his visit, he held rare talks with Kim — the reclusive North Korean leader’s first meeting with a prominent Western figure since reportedly suffering a stroke a year ago.
Clinton’s visit came at a time of heightened tensions between North Korea and the West. Pyongyang has been on an increasingly aggressive footing since April, when it tested a long-range ballistic missile capable of hitting the west coast of America. In response to criticism from the United Nations, the North then tested a nuclear bomb in an underground bunker. It has threatened war with the South and to attack anyone who tries to enforce sanctions against it.