SEOUL (AFP) – An American citizen released after six months’ detention in North Korea arrived in Seoul Saturday after he left the communist state with a US delegation, South Korean news media said.
Eddie Jun Yong-Su, a US citizen of a Korean ancestry, came to Seoul via Beijing after he flew out of Pyongyang with the US group led by Robert King, US special envoy for human rights and humanitarian issues.
“I have to go to hospital now. I’ll have a chance to talk to you later,” Jun told journalists upon arrival at Seoul’s Incheon airport. He was then whisked away in a mini bus, Yonhap news agency said.
Wearing a black zip-up jacket and black trousers, he looked in relatively good health and walked without help despite his detention in the North since November on unspecified charges, Yonhap said.
Earlier on Saturday, King and Jun arrived at Beijing aboard a flight of Air Koryo, the North’s state airline.
“We are very happy to report that Mr Jun, the American citizen who’s being held in Pyongyang, has been released,” King told reporters on arrival at Beijing.
“We are also delighted that within a day or two he’ll be able to be back with his wife and family.”
King said Washington had not offered food aid in exchange for his freedom.
“We did not negotiate or agree to any provision of food assistance. That’s an issue that will have to be made in Washington,” he said.
Jun, a California-based businessman, had been detained for apparent missionary activities in the hardline communist state.
King’s departure came a day after North Korea said it had decided to free and return Jun “on humanitarian grounds in consideration of repeated requests” by recent US visitors to Pyongyang, including King.
King was at the head of a team to assess whether to resume US food aid to the hungry state. UN agencies say that six million people urgently need assistance.
KCNA said the North was also influenced by appeals from former US president Jimmy Carter and evangelist Franklin Graham, who both visited the country in recent weeks and sought clemency for Jun.
An investigation found that Jun had committed a “grave crime” which he had frankly admitted, KCNA said.
Lim Chang-Ho, a professor at a South Korean theological college, said earlier this month that Jun had engaged in “aggressive” missionary activities in the North.
It was the third case in less than a year of an apparent US Christian activist being detained by Pyongyang.
Missionary Robert Park was held on Christmas Day 2009 after walking across the border to make a one-man protest over human rights violations. He was freed in February 2010 after the North said he expressed “sincere repentance”.
On January 25, 2010, the North detained Aijalon Mahli Gomes for crossing the border illegally and sentenced him to eight years’ hard labour.
Gomes was said to be a devout Christian. He was freed last August after Carter flew to Pyongyang to intercede.
The North’s constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief, but in practice, “genuine religious freedom did not exist”, according to the US State Department’s latest human rights report.