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N. Korea Releases Japanese Detainee - 2002-02-13

A Japanese man detained in communist North Korea for two years is now safe at his home outside of Tokyo. He returned to Japan by airplane Tuesday, after Pyongyang suddenly freed him.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Takashi Sugishima says his detention in North Korea was extremely trying, but that he was treated better than he had initially expected.

He says he received three hot meals a day, occupied a comfortable room, and was never tortured. However, he says he was kept in isolation and under constant surveillance.

Mr. Sugishima, a former reporter for Japan's financial newspaper, Nihon Keizai, was detained in Pyongyang on suspicion of spying in 1999. He was there with a Japanese delegation.

He says that North Korean authorities accused him of using a small tape recorder and camera to gather secret data for the governments of Japan and South Korea, a charge that Tokyo and Seoul deny.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry says it is unclear why North Korea decided to free him.

Japanese government spokesman, Yasuo Fukuda, welcomed Mr. Sugishima's safe return. He also expressed hope that about 10 other Japanese allegedly kidnapped by North Korea would soon be released.

He says "Japan has often negotiated with North Korea, and wants to ask for an appropriate response to this issue."

Mr. Sugishima's release comes just ahead of President Bush's trip to Japan, South Korea and China. North Korea is expected to be a key topic during his meetings with his Asian counterparts.

Secretary of State Colin Powell says that on his visit to Seoul, Mr. Bush will offer unconditional dialogue with North Korea.