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Americans Freed by N. Korea Arrive in US


Two Americans freed by North Korea have returned safely to the United States.

Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller arrived Saturday night (0500 Sunday UTC) at a military base - Joint Base Lewis-McChord - in the Pacific Coast state of Washington.

They flew in the company of U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who worked to gain their freedom.

Bae was met by his family, including his mother, Myunghee Bae. She told VOA's Korean service earlier in the day that she waited so long for the news, she could not believe it when the State Department contacted her Saturday.

Thanks supporters

In a brief news conference at the military base, Kenneth Bae expressed thanks to President Barack Obama and to those who had been "supporting me and lifting me up and not forgetting me."

He also thanked the North Korean government for releasing him, The Associated Press reported.

“It's been an amazing two years, I learned a lot, I grew a lot, I lost a lot of weight,” said Bae, a Korean-American missionary with health problems.

Asked how he was feeling, he said, “I'm recovering at this time.” His family has said he suffers from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and back pain, according to the AP.

Bae - a Korean-American missionary - had been in detention since 2012 on a conviction of anti-government activities while leading a group of tourists.

Miller was also greeted by his family. He had been in prison since April for tearing up his tourist visa in the Pyongyang airport and demanding asylum.

Last Americans held

The two were the last Americans held by North Korea, which is accused internationally of widespread human rights abuses.

The exact circumstances of the Americans' release or with whom Clapper met are not clear.

A senior Obama administration official told the AP the president approved the mission last week and U.S. officials spent the next several days planning the trip.

Clapper spent roughly a day on the ground and met with North Korean security officials - but not with Kim, the official said aboard Air Force One as Obama prepared to head to Beijing for the APEC summit.

Obama said the United States is "very grateful for their safe return." He said he appreciates Clapper doing a great job on what he described as an obviously challenging mission.

Secretary of State John Kerry called their release a "humanitarian gesture" and said U.S. officials had been working all the angles to bring Bae and Miller home.

UN reaction

In New York, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Ban is relieved the two Americans are free and hopes positive momentum for peace and security on the Korean peninsula will be built on.

The State Department also thanked Sweden, which represents U.S. interests in North Korea, and repeated its warning to U.S. citizens not to travel to the North.

Bae, 46, of Lynnwood, Washington, had been in detention since 2012 for alleged anti-government activities while leading a group of tourists.

Later, Pyongyang sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor for committing "hostile acts" against the regime, making him the longest-held American in North Korea in recent years. The Korean-American missionary's reported health problems only added to concerns about his captivity.

His family this week appealed again to the North Korean regime to release him. Relatives released a video clip on the website YouTube wishing for Bae’s swift return home.

Miller, of Bakersfield, California, had been charged with espionage and detained since April. He was taken into custody after tearing up his tourist passport at the Pyongyang airport. He was 24 at the time.

In September, he was tried for "hostile acts" and sentenced to six years of hard labor.

They were freed less than three weeks after the unexpected release of another U.S. prisoner in North Korea, Jeffrey Fowle.

Fowle, of Miamisburg, Ohio, was held for nearly six months. Fowle was jailed for leaving a Bible in a nightclub.

Fowle said his fellow Americans' release is "an answer to a prayer."

Some material for this report came from AP.

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