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Former Detainee: N. Korea Wanted Ex-US President to Intervene

FILE - Jeffrey Fowle and his wife, Tatyana, are greeted by U.S. Air Force Col. John Devillier upon arrival at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio after his release in North Korea, Oct. 22, 2014.

An American who was detained in North Korea said Pyongyang told him to ask for a visit by a former U.S. president as a possible high-level envoy to secure his release.

In an interview with VOA, Jeffrey Fowle said he was put through preparation sessions before being allowed to talk with foreign journalists during his captivity.

“There were these sessions, especially before the two interviews with the Americans," Fowle said. "They had things they wanted brought [up]. The main thing was to get me to talk about my desperate situation and to get things going on this side of the Pacific."

Fowle was detained for nearly six months. He was freed last month.

In early September, Fowle and two other American detainees who are still being held in the North were given the opportunity to be interviewed by American news outlets CNN and the Associated Press. He said North Korean authorities wanted Fowle, in the interviews, to admit he'd committed a crime, though they would not specify what the crime was.

“They said that would be furnished at the time of trial, and basically it was disseminating the Bible in violation of [North Korean] law," he said. "But the line or verse of the law was never cited to me.”

Fowle’s remarks contradicted comments from a North Korean official at the United Nations who told VOA last month that his country never asked the detainees to seek help from former U.S. presidents.

Fowle, 56, of Miamisburg, Ohio, entered North Korea on a tourist visa in April and was arrested in May for leaving an English-Korean bible in a nightclub in the northern port city of Chongjin. He said he left the Bible with his name and photographs of his children in it. He said he didn't realize the significance of his action until he was arrested.

Americans Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller are still being held in North Korea.

Pyongyang convicted Bae and Miller of committing “hostile acts” against the regime. Fowle was released without a trial.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.