Naharnet

North Korea Will Release U.S. Detainee Held on Unspecified Charges

North Korea said Friday it has decided to release a U.S. citizen held since November on unspecified charges, following requests from a U.S. official who is assessing possible food aid.

Eddie Jun Yong-Su, a California-based businessman, was detained for apparent missionary activities in the hard line communist state, colleagues say.

The North "decided to free and return (Jun) on humanitarian grounds in consideration of repeated requests" by recent U.S. visitors to Pyongyang, the country's official KCNA news agency said.

It cited this week's trip by Robert King, the U.S. envoy on the North's human rights who is heading a team to assess whether to resume U.S. food aid. U.N. agencies say that some six million people urgently need assistance.

KCNA said King had expressed regret and promised to prevent similar incidents.

It said the North was also influenced by appeals from former U.S. 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.

But the Swedish embassy, which represents U.S. interests, had been allowed to contact him, and Jun had exchanged letters and telephone calls with his family and received hospital treatment, it said.

It was not clear when Jun, the latest in a series of Americans to be detained in the North, would be released. King was scheduled to fly home Saturday but other members of his team will stay longer.

Jun, an ethnic Korean in his 60s, is an agricultural machinery salesman who attends a church in California's Orange County and makes frequent trips to the North.

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.

Lim also told Agence France Presse that Jun had been severely beaten at one point as part of Pyongyang's investigations into underground Christian churches. There was no confirmation of the alleged ill-treatment.

Jun belongs to a South Korean missionary group, Lim said, which has been supporting the underground churches with cash donations and publications.

He said North Korean authorities had warned Jun about his activities but he continued anyway.

It was the third apparent case in less than a year of an apparent U.S. 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 labor.

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 U.S. State Department's latest human rights report.

Source: Agence France Presse


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