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Former N. Korea Detainee 'Closest Friends' With US Citizen Facing Trial


An American facing trial in North Korea may have been inspired to enter the country by the incursion of a fellow American just four weeks earlier. The two were friends.

Newly emerging photographs show Aijalon Mahli Gomes attending South Korean rallies in support of North Korean human rights.

Gomes, a 30-year-old English teacher from the state of Massachusetts, is facing trial in North Korea. Pyongyang says he illegally entered the country from China on January 25.

That was one month after American Robert Park made his Christmas Day entry to the North, waving a Bible and preaching a Christian message. North Korea released Park last month.

In an e-mail from a spokesman, Park describes Gomes as one of his "closest friends" and says he plans a hunger strike in his support.

Both Park and Gomes are connected to Pax Koreana, a Christian activist group in Seoul.

Pax Koreana director Jo Sung-rae says Park and Gomes met last year and Gomes displayed genuine concern for Park's welfare.

He says Gomes was reticent, and that he was impressed by the way Gomes prayed silently at the back of the rally. He says he approached Gomes and saw that he was crying, without making any dramatic facial expressions. Jo says he calmly patted Gomes, and he continued praying.

Jo says Gomes was probably inspired by Park's actions. But he says Gomes crossed into the North alone, with no help or encouragement from Jo or his group.

Jo says such things are not done by mere mortals, or by Pax Koreana, either. He says he strongly believes it is God that is working here.

Friends and former colleagues describe Gomes as a gentle, but passionate, Christian eager to spread his faith. They say they are hoping and praying for his speedy release.

North Korea is one of the most reclusive countries in the world, and tightly limits the number of foreigners who can enter its borders. It also is considered one of the most repressive states, sharply limiting its citizens' rights to free expression and their access to the rest of the world.

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