North Korea plans release of US missionary from detention

February 5th, 2010 - 2:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Seoul, Feb 5 (DPA) North Korea plans to release a US missionary who has been detained since December after illegally crossing the border from China, the state-run Korea Central News Agency reported Friday.
A government agency decided to “leniently forgive and release him, taking his admission and sincere repentance of his wrongdoings into consideration”, the agency said.

The report did not say when Robert Park, 28, would be freed.

Park was detained by North Korea while wandering across the border on a religious mission. He announced beforehand that he intended to be arrested to provoke public interest in the deplorable human rights situation in North Korea.

Park, who leads a coalition of advocacy groups for North Korean defectors, had said he would deliver a message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to step down and that he wanted to be arrested to pressure the US, South Korea and Japan to pay attention to the plight of the North Korean people.

On Friday, the North Korean report said the government had conducted an investigation into Park’s border crossing and found “he trespassed on the border due to his wrong understanding of the DPRK”, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The agency also published what it said was an interview it conducted with Park, whom it said admitted his guilt and blamed his border crossing on Western propaganda on human rights abuses and repression of religion in North Korea.

“I trespassed on the border due to my wrong understanding of the DPRK caused by the false propaganda made by the West to tarnish its image,” he was quoted as saying.

The agency quoted Park as saying he had been allowed to pray and attend a Christian church service in Pyongyang and a Bible had been returned to him.

“I would not have committed such crime if I had known that the DPRK respects the rights of all the people and guarantees their freedom and they enjoy a happy and stable life,” Park was quoted as saying.

Such statements run contrary to reports from human rights groups that said dissent is not tolerated in the country, which has no free media or religious freedom.

The government also conducts arbitrary arrests, tortures prisoners and imprisons hundreds of thousands of its people, including children, in detention camps for political crimes, rights groups said. Prisoners are subjected to forced labour and sometimes die in custody, they said.

North Korea is known to be holding a second US citizen. The 28-year-old man who has not been identified crossed into the country Jan 25, also from China. A South Korean newspaper, Dong-a Ilbo, reported that he had requested asylum because he wants to serve in the North Korean army and not a “capitalist militia”.

In March, two US journalists were arrested after allegedly entering North Korea illegally while working on a story about North Koreans fleeing their country.

The two women were sentenced to 12 years of hard labour but were released and flown back to the US five months later after a meeting in Pyongyang between former US president Bill Clinton and Kim.

A release of Park would come as the US and other countries have been seeking to persuade Pyongyang to return to negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programme. Those talks have been stalled since December 2008. Five months later, North Korea conducted its second nuclear test.

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