November 28, 1996 in Nation/World

North Korea’s Action Regarded As Conciliatory Pyongyang Regime Wants To Rejoin International Community, Congressman Says

Los Angeles Times

North Korea’s decision to release an American arrested as a spy three months ago signals that the isolated Pyongyang regime wants to “re-engage with the international community,” according to the U.S. congressman who negotiated the release.

“There was no quid pro quo on the American side” in exchange for the release, Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., said Wednesday. He added that a small sum - “no more than $5,000” - was paid to the North Koreans to cover the American’s “hotel bill.”

Evan Carl Hunziker, 26, will arrive home in Tacoma today in time for Thanksgiving dinner, Richardson said.

Hunziker was handed over to Richardson at North Korea’s Pyongyang airport on Wednesday morning and flew to Tokyo aboard a U.S. Air Force plane. He alighted in a drizzle, wearing a baggy green parka and black sweat pants, looking healthy but stunned by the large media contingent that awaited him on the tarmac. Hunziker waved to reporters but did not speak, and was quickly whisked away for a medical checkup.

Still unanswered: Why did the young missionary reportedly swim across the Yalu River from China into North Korea on Aug. 24? “Let’s just say he tried to be a tourist a little too much,” Richardson said. “I believe he’s a peaceful human being who made a mistake by going to Korea in an unauthorized fashion.”

The hermetic Communist regime arrested Hunziker on the spot but waited more than six weeks before announcing his capture on espionage charges, which can carry the death penalty in North Korea.

South Korea and the United States both discounted the spying charge as ridiculous. Analysts speculated that Hunziker was being used to divert attention from a damaging incident in September, when a North Korean submarine allegedly on a spying mission ran aground off the coast of South Korea, triggering a massive manhunt for suspected North Korean infiltrators. The incident enraged South Korea and sent relations between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington back into a deep freeze.

The United States and South Korea have demanded an apology for the submarine incident, and reports from Washington say that the North Koreans might be willing to express regret in order to put relations back on track.

“My sense is the North Korean government wants to put the submarine incident behind it and re-engage with the international community,” Richardson said.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email