REUTERS - An American citizen detained in North Korea on unspecified charges for the past six months has been released, U.S. rights envoy Robert King said on Saturday following a visit to the secretive state’s capital to assess its pleas for food aid.
Japan’s Kyodo news agency said Jun Young Su had accompanied King, but there was no overt sign at Beijing airport of the released U.S. citizen and King did not give details.
“We are very happy to report that Mr. Jun, the American citizen being held in Pyongyang, has been released. We are also delighted that in a day or two he will be back with his wife and family,” King said upon arrival in the Chinese capital.
North Korea’s official KCNA news agency only said King had left after a visit “to consult on humanitarian issues”, but made no mention of Jun.
Jun was arrested last November, and admitted committing a crime “against the state” during an investigation, North Korea’s official KCNA news agency reported. North Korea said on Friday he would be released on “humanitarian grounds”.
Media reports say Jun was a businessman from California and that he had been doing missionary work in the isolated North.
There is a long history of the North detaining U.S. citizens and releasing them with great reluctance.
King, who led a team of five people to evaluate the North’s pleas for food, said he had reached no agreement with Pyongyang on food aid.
King’s five-day trip was the first official U.S. visit to North Korea since 2009, and comes amid signs the U.S. is looking to revive multilateral talks on the country’s nuclear programme after a hiatus of more than two years.
“While there our team had three-and-a-half days and very serious and thoughtful talks with the Foreign Ministry. We were warmly welcomed. We were received at the highest level,” he told reporters, without saying with whom he had met.
“We discussed a number of issues and we will report back to Washington on our meetings. We did not negotiate or agree to any provisional food assistance. That is a decision that will have to be made in Washington.”
King added that a field team will remain in Pyongyang until the end of next week.
His visit came as North Korean leader Kim Jong-il wrapped up a secretive visit to China, his third to Asia’s biggest economy in just over a year.
The U.S. has come under mounting pressure to resume food aid to North Korea after a U.N. report said earlier this year that more than 6 million people urgently need help in the diplomatically isolated country.
Critics of aid say the North has siphoned off the food in the past to feed its million-strong army.
South Korea has said the North’s food stocks are at the same levels as last year and have accused it of trying to hoard food ahead of a possible third nuclear test, which would likely provoke a further tightening of international sanctions.
The North, squeezed by tightened international sanctions for nuclear and missile tests in 2009, has asked about 40 countries for food aid.
The U.S. suspended food supplies to the North in 2008 over a monitoring dispute and has said it will only resume them with the South’s agreement.