February 5, 2010 in Nation/World

N. Korea says it will free Park

American missionary entered illegally
Kwang-Tae Kim Associated Press
Associated Press photo

This undated photo released today by Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service in Tokyo shows American missionary Robert Park.
(Full-size photo)

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea announced today it will free an American missionary detained on Christmas Day for illegally crossing the border from China.

Robert Park, of Tucson, Ariz., slipped across the frozen Tumen River from China into the North carrying letters calling on North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to close the country’s brutal prison camps and to step down from power, rights activists in Seoul said.

North Korean media reported in a brief dispatch Dec. 29 that authorities had detained an American suspected of illegal entry, but said nothing more about it until today. The 28-year-old missionary’s detainment came nearly four months after two other Americans, journalists Euna Park and Laura Ling, were released with former President Bill Clinton’s help after they were arrested at the border and sentenced to prison.

State media in Pyongyang said today that North Korea “decided to leniently forgive and release” Park after “taking his admission and sincere repentance of his wrongdoings into consideration.”

“We are ecstatic over this news. Very, very excited and happy. Overjoyed,” the Rev. John Benson, pastor at the Life in Christ Community Church in Tucson who ordained Park as a missionary in late 2007, told the Associated Press. “We’ve been praying for him to be freed. It’s definitely an answer to our prayers.”

In Washington, U.S. officials said they had been informed of Park’s impending release.

“North Korean authorities informed us recently of their intention to do so and we are pleased they are proceeding,” National Security Council spokesman Ben Chang said.

Today, the official Korean Central News Agency said Park stated that he trespassed into North Korea because of his “wrong understanding” of the country “caused by the false propaganda made by the West to tarnish its image.”

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