Tuesday 20 March 2018

Carter secures release of US citizen from N Korea

Jean H Lee in Seoul

A smiling Aijalon Gomes hugged former US president Jimmy Carter as they boarded a plane for Boston yesterday, seven months after his arrest in North Korea.

Mr Carter flew to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, this week on a private mission to secure a pardon for the 31-year-old American, who was detained in January after crossing into the country from China.

In April, he was sentenced to eight years of hard labour and fined 70 million won -- more than $600,000 -- for sneaking into the country illegally and committing a "hostile act".

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il granted Carter's request to "leniently forgive" Gomes, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

Mr Carter and Mr Gomes were due back in Boston yesterday for a reunion with his mother, Mr Carter's spokeswoman Deanna Congileo said in Atlanta.

There was no indication that Kim -- who was making a surprise trip to China this week -- met with Mr Carter as widely anticipated.

In Washington, the State Department welcomed the news of Mr Gomes' release.

"We are relieved he will soon be safely reunited with his family," spokesman PJ Crowley said.

Mr Gomes was the fourth American in a year arrested for trespassing in North Korea.

Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested last March and released only after the former president Bill Clinton made a similar trip to Pyongyang.

It was unclear what prompted Mr Gomes to enter the repressive nation. He may have been emulating fellow Christian Robert Park, who was detained after he crossed into North Korea in December to highlight its human rights record, said Jo Sung-rae, a South Korean human rights advocate. Mr Park was expelled some 40 days later after issuing an apology carried by North Korean state media.

Mr Gomes had been teaching English in South Korea and attended rallies in Seoul in January calling for Mr Park's release. He was arrested in North Korea just two weeks later.

Irish Independent

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