BEIJING – North Korea freed an American held for a half year for reportedly proselytizing, handing him today to a U.S. envoy who said Washington had not promised to provide aid in exchange for the man’s release.
The envoy, Robert King, accompanied Eddie Jun on a flight from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, and told reporters after arriving in Beijing that Jun would return to the United States to be reunited with his family “within a day or two.”
Jun, a Korean-American who traveled to North Korea several times and had business interests there, was arrested in November, with the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, saying he was accused of committing a serious crime. Pyongyang didn’t provide details about the alleged crime, but South Korean press reports say Jun was accused of spreading Christianity.
King, the U.S. envoy for North Korean human rights, traveled to Pyongyang with a team of specialists earlier in the week to assess the severity of the latest of North Korea’s chronic food shortages. He said he spent 3 1/2 days in talks with North Korean Foreign Ministry officials. He did not specify how much time was spent discussing Jun but tried to quash any speculation that the U.S. offered aid to obtain his freedom.
“We did not negotiate or agree to any provision of food assistance,” King told reporters.
KCNA announced Friday that North Korea would release Jun after King “expressed regret at the incident on behalf of the U.S. government and assured that it would make all its efforts to prevent the recurrence of similar incident.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner welcomed Jun’s release. He said the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which represents U.S. interests in the country, had confirmed the North was going to free the American. He said Jun was in decent health.
Toner said King had raised Jun’s case in discussions with North Korean officials, and visited the American on Thursday. The spokesman said he did not have details on the talks and so could not comment on whether King had expressed regret to North Korea.
He said the decision to release Jun would have no bearing on the U.S. decision on whether to provide food aid or on restarting dialogue with the North.