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North Korea releases two American citizens Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller

By Tajuddin
In WORLD NEWS
Nov 8th, 2014
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U.S. citizen Matthew Todd Miller sits in a witness box during his trial

U.S. citizen Matthew Todd Miller sits in a witness box during his trial

Pyongyang ( AP + DIPLOMAT.SO) North Korea has released two American citizens, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Saturday.

The agency said the men have been allowed to leave North Korea and are on their way home, accompanied by agency Director James Clapper. Their release was secured through a secret mission by top U.S. intelligence officials.

Bae and Miller were the last Americans held by North Korea following the release last month of Jeffrey Fowle.

Miller, who is from California, was serving a six-year jail term on charges of espionage, after he allegedly ripped his tourist visa at Pyongyang’s airport in April and demanded asylum.

Kenneth Bae

Kenneth Bae

Bae, who is from Washington state, is a Korean-American missionary with health problems. He was serving a 15-year sentence for alleged anti-government activities.

Bae was arrested in November 2012 while leading a tour group in North Korea and was accused of crimes against the state. Bae’s family and the State Department have repeatedly called for his release on humanitarian grounds, citing his failing health.

“It’s a wonderful day for them and their families,” President Barack Obama said at the White House following his announcement of his pick for attorney general. “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.”

“Words cannot adequately express our relief and gratitude that Kenneth is finally coming home,” Bae’s family said in a statement. “We have been waiting for and praying for this day for two years. This ordeal has been excruciating for the family, but we are filled with joy right now.”

It was the latest twist in the fitful relationship between the Obama administration and the young North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, whose approach to the U.S. has shifted back and forth from defiance to occasional conciliation. And it was an anomalous role for Clapper, an acerbic retired general who doesn’t typically do diplomacy.

U.S. officials did not immediately provide details about the circumstances of the Americans’ release, including whether Clapper met with Kim or other senior North Korean officials. They said the timing was not related to Obama’s imminent trip to China, Myanmar and Australia.

But analysts who study North Korea said the decision to free Bae and Miller now from long prison terms probably was a bid by that country to ease pressure in connection with its human rights record. A recent United Nations report documented rape, torture, executions and forced labor in the North’s network of prison camps, accusing the government of “widespread, systematic and gross” human rights violations.

North Korea seems worried that Kim could be accused in the international criminal court, said Sue Mi Terry, a former senior intelligence analyst now at Columbia University.

“The North Koreans seem to be obsessed over the human rights issue,” she told The Associated Press. “This human rights thing is showing itself to be an unexpected leverage for the US.”

Bruce Klingner, a former CIA analyst now at the Heritage Foundation, agreed that efforts to shine a spotlight on the country’s human rights record “startled the regime and led to frantic attempts to derail the process.”

Last month, North Korea released Jeffrey Fowle of Miamisburg, Ohio, who was held for nearly six months. He had left a Bible in a nightclub in the hope that it would reach North Korea’s underground Christian community.

Fowle said his fellow Americans’ release is “an answer to a prayer.” He said he initially thought Bae and Miller had been released with him last month. “I didn’t realize they weren’t released with me until I got on the plane,” he said.

The detainee releases do not herald a change in U.S. posture regarding North Korea’s disputed nuclear program, the main source of tension between Pyongyang and Washington, said a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss national security matters.

International aid-for-disarmament talks have been stalled since 2008. The U.S. wants the North to take concrete steps to show it’s committed to denuclearization before the talks can resume.

The last concerted U.S. effort to restart those negotiations collapsed in spring 2012. North Korea had agreed to freeze its nuclear and missile programs in exchange for food aid, but then launched a long-range rocket in breach of a U.N. ban on its use of ballistic missile technology.

The U.S. notified allies of Clapper’s trip to North Korea and alerted members of the congressional leadership once his visit was underway, the official said.

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