THE last two Americans being held captive by North Korea have returned home.
Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller landed at a Washington state military base on Saturday night after their departure from the reclusive Communist country was secured through a secret mission by a top US intelligence official.
Mr Bae, surrounded by family members, spoke briefly after the plane carrying him and Mr Miller landed.
“I just want to say thank you all for supporting me and standing by me,” he said.
He thanked President Barack Obama and the many people who supported him and his family. He also thanked the North Korean government for releasing him.
“It’s been an amazing two years. I learned a lot, I grew a lot, I lost a lot of weight,” said Mr Bae, a Korean-American missionary. 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.
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US officials said Mr Miller, of Bakersfield, California, and Mr Bae, of Lynnwood, Washington, flew back with James Clapper, the director of national intelligence. Mr Clapper was the highest-ranking American to visit Pyongyang in more than a decade.
Members of Mr Bae’s family met him when he landed. His mother hugged him after he got off the plane. Mr Miller stepped off the US government aircraft a short time later and was also greeted with hugs,
Their release was the latest twist in the fitful relationship between the Obama administration and the young North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, whose approach to the US has shifted back and forth from defiance to occasional conciliation.
“It’s a wonderful day for them and their families,” Mr Obama said. “Obviously we are very grateful for their safe return.”
Mr Bae was serving a 15-year sentence for alleged anti-government activities. He was detained in 2012 while leading a tour group to a North Korea economic zone.
Mr Miller was sentenced to six years of forced labour on 14 September for committing “hostile acts “while “entering under the guise of a tourist”.
A senior Obama administration official, Mr Clapper spent roughly a day on the ground and met North Korean security officials – but not Mr Kim.
The US had considered sending someone from outside government, the official said, but suggested Mr Clapper after the North Koreans indicated in recent weeks that they would release the detainees if the US sent a high-level official from Mr Obama’s administration.
Analysts who study North Korea said the decision to free Mr Bae and Mr Miller now from long prison terms probably was a bid by that country to ease pressure in connection with its human rights record.
A recent United Nations report documented rape, torture, executions and forced labour in the North’s network of prison camps, accusing the government of “widespread, systematic and gross” human rights violations.
Sue Mi Terry, a former senior intelligence analyst now at Columbia University, said North Korea seems worried that Mr Kim could be accused in the International Criminal Court.
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