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US Missionary Returns After 43 Days in Detention in North Korea

  • Kurt Achin

The family of an American activist has welcomed him home in Los Angeles, 43 days after he was detained in North Korea.

Broadcast images from Beijing showed Robert Park, 28, transiting through the city's airport, looking thin and exhausted as he walked silently through a crowd of reporters.

Hours later, Park was greeted by family members at a private location at the Los Angeles international airport. His older brother, Paul Park, was there.

"He's doing well, he's in good condition and we're really excited to have him home," said Paul Park.

Fellow human rights activists say Robert Park deliberately crossed into North Korea on Christmas Day, December 25. They say he wanted to spread a Christian message and urge the North's leaders to close down political prison camps.

His condition and whereabouts remained largely a mystery for the 43 days that followed. On Friday, North Korea announced plans to release him, and published an interview quoting Park as regretting his actions and showing a change of heart about life in North Korea. The report quoted Park as saying he now believes North Koreans enjoy "complete religious freedom."

His brother Paul says the family has not yet had time to ask him about his stay in the North, or about the comments he supposedly made. He says the emotion of the homecoming has taken precedence.

"He's been crying, he's very excited," he added. "There was nothing more touching than watching a mother and son being able to embrace, particularly since they haven't seen each other in a while, and given that last night was the first time that we heard his voice in 43 days."

A close friend of Park's here in Seoul says he believes that if Park did say the things North Korea quoted in the report, it would have to have been under duress.

North Korea is considered to have one of the worst human rights records in the world, and severely restricts access to outside information. Defectors have said religion is tightly controlled.

His friends in the South Korean capital say they will press forward with plans to hold a large rally later this month. Originally, the rally was intended to call for Park's release. Now, they say, the event will celebrate it.