Wednesday, August 5, 2009

North Korea pardons US Journalists

News of the disappearance of Euna Lee and Laura Ling

Home sweet home - thanks to President Bill Clinton, no thanks to Al Gore

Former US President, Bill Clinton is back into the limelight, he is basking in glory after his successful mission of bringing back home 2 female US journalists, jailed by North Korea for allegedly straying into the reclusive territory.

Clinton even had lunch with President Kim Jong Ill before the 2 US Journalists were handed over to him.

It was a rare occassion when a recent President of the US, are allowed to enter North Korea.

I bet the mission would have failed if President George W. Bush were sent to North Korea, instead of Clinton, for Bush had once described North Korea as the Axis of Evil.

For now, Clinton's public profile is at the highest, not only the families of the 2 journalists thanking him, but also millions of Americans and also South Koreans.

When Euna and Laura was sentenced to 12 years jail with hard labour, it was devastating for their families and their employer - Current TV, founded by former US Vice President, Al Gore.

Well, Al Gore sent them to hell, but Clinton, the guardian angel, saved them.

Euna Lee and Laura Ling are now reunited with their families.

Perhaps Clinton need to do another rescue missions, this time in Iran where 3 US citizens were captured for allegedly straying into Iranian territory from Iraq.

Well Clinton has to do the talk with Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President.

Once again, former President George W. Bush, cannot be allowed to play any role in the rescue mission because he had also described Iran as the Axis of Evil when he was in office in the White House.

High profile peaceful 'rescue' missions by high ranking Americans to bring home their fellow Americans in hostile territory are not new.

In the early 1990's, Reverend Jesse Jackson managed to bring back home 5 US air force personells, captured and taken as Prisoner of War by the Serbian forces.

The 5 personells were on a bombing mission abroad a B52 bomber, during the campaign initiated by NATO to crush Serbian forces and free Kosovo.

They ejected to safety when their plane was shot down by surface to air missiles, and taken prisoner.

Some journalists were not that lucky.

They died while covering the frontline, caught in the line of fire.

One infamous incident is known as the Balibo Five incident in East Timor.

The Balibo Five refers to a group of journalists working for Australian television networks.

They were based in the town of Balibo in East Timor (then Portuguese Timor) but were killed on 16 October 1975 by Indonesian troops mounting incursions, prior to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor on 7 December that year.

The group was made up of two Australians, reporter Greg Shackleton, 27 and sound recordist Tony Stewart, 21; a New Zealander, cameraman Gary Cunningham, 27, for HSV-7 (Seven Network) in Melbourne; and two Britons, cameraman Brian Peters, 29 and reporter Malcolm Rennie, 28 working for TCN-9 (Nine Network) in Sydney.

BURBANK, California, USA. – Two American journalists freed by North Korea have returned home to the United States on a flight with former President Bill Clinton.

The jet carrying Euna Lee and Laura Ling landed at Burbank's Bob Hope Airport early Wednesday. The women spent more than four months detained in North Korea.

The reporters were granted a pardon by North Korea on Tuesday, following rare talks between Clinton and the reclusive leader Kim Jong Il. They had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for entering the country illegally.

In exclusive APTN video showing their release, the women were shown dressed in short-sleeved shirts and jeans as they boarded the plane in North Korea.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton and two American journalists flew back to the United States on Wednesday for what was expected to be an emotional reunion with family and friends after the reporters spent the last four months detained in North Korea.

Euna Lee and Laura Ling were granted a pardon by North Korea following rare talks between Clinton and the reclusive leader Kim Jong Il. They had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for entering the country illegally.

The women, dressed in short-sleeved shirts and jeans, appeared healthy as they climbed the steps to the plane and shook hands with Clinton before getting into the jet, exclusive APTN footage from Pyongyang showed. Clinton waved, put his hand over his heart and then saluted.

North Korean state TV showed Clinton's departure, and North Korean officials waving to the plane, but did not show images of the two journalists.

Clinton spokesman Matt McKenna said the flight was bound for Los Angeles, where the journalists will be reunited with their families.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hailed their release.

"I spoke to my husband on the airplane and everything went well," she told reporters in Nairobi, Kenya. "They are extremely excited to be reunited soon when they touch down in California. It was just a good day to be able to see this happen."

Ling's father, Doug, told reporters outside his home in Carmichael, Calif., that his daughter's release was one of the best days of his life. He said he would travel to the Burbank airport to meet his daughter's plane early Wednesday, and planned to bring American flags, yellow ribbons and banners to welcome her home.

"I'm going to go down there and see my little girl," he said.

Ling, a 32-year-old California native, is the younger sister of Lisa Ling, a correspondent for CNN as well as "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and "National Geographic Explorer." Lee, 36, a South Korean-born U.S. citizen, is the mother of a 4-year-old.

Their expected arrival was a jubilant conclusion to a more than four-month ordeal for the women, who were arrested near the North Korean-Chinese border in March while on a reporting trip for Current TV, the media venture founded by former Vice President Al Gore.

Gore was expected to be at the Burbank airport to greet the women, who were sentenced in June for illegal entry and engaging in "hostile acts."

Hillary Clinton had urged North Korea last month to grant them amnesty, saying they were remorseful and their families anguished.

The release also amounted to a successful diplomatic foray for the former president, who traveled as an unofficial envoy, with approval and coordination from the administration. He was uniquely positioned for it as the only recent president who had considered visiting North Korea while in office, and one who had sent his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright.

But the backchannel genesis of the mission was not immediately clear, whether Obama called on him, North Korea asked for him or his wife suggested him.

His landmark visit to Pyongyang to free the Americans was a coup that came at a time of heightened tensions over North Korea's nuclear program.

Hillary Clinton also rejected an official report by the North Korean news agency that said Bill Clinton had delivered an apology about the incident to the country's ailing leader.

"That is not true," she said. "That did not occur."

A senior U.S. official said the reporters' families and Gore asked the former president to travel to Pyongyang to seek their release and that Clinton's mission did not include discussions about issues beyond that. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe events leading up to the Clinton trip and the women's release.

The meeting also appeared aimed at dispelling persistent questions about the health of the authoritarian North Korean leader, who was said to be suffering from chronic diabetes and heart disease before the reported stroke. The meeting was Kim's first with a prominent Western figure since the reported stroke.

Kim smiled broadly for a photo standing next to a towering Clinton. He was markedly thinner than a year ago, with his graying hair cropped short. The once-pudgy 67-year-old, who for decades had a noticeable pot belly, wore a khaki jumpsuit and appeared frail and diminutive in a group shot seated next to a robust Clinton.

Pardoning Ling and Lee and having Clinton serving as their emissary served both North Korea's need to continue maintaining that the two women had committed a crime and the Obama administration's desire not to expend diplomatic capital winning their freedom, said Daniel Sneider, associate director of research at Stanford University's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center.

"Nobody wanted this to be a distraction from the more substantially difficult issues we have with North Korea," he said. "There was a desire by the administration to resolve this quietly and from the very beginning they didn't allow it to become a huge public issue."

Speaking out for the first time since their capture, Gore said in a joint statement with Current co-founder Joel Hyatt that everyone at the media outlet was overjoyed by the prospect of their safe return. "Our hearts go out to them and to their families for persevering through this horrible experience," it said.

The Lee and Ling families thanked Obama, the secretary of state and the State Department.

"We especially want to thank President Bill Clinton for taking on such an arduous mission and Vice President Al Gore for his tireless efforts to bring Laura and Euna home," it said. "We are counting the seconds to hold Laura and Euna in our arms."

In North Korea, Clinton was accorded honors typically reserved for heads of state. Senior officials met his private unmarked plane as it arrived Tuesday morning.

Video from the APTN television news agency showed Clinton exchanging warm handshakes with officials and accepting a bouquet of flowers from a schoolgirl.

Kim later hosted a banquet for Clinton at the state guesthouse, Radio Pyongyang and the Korean Central Broadcasting Station reported. The VIPs and Kim posed for a group shot in front of the same garish mural depicting a stormy seaside landscape that Albright posed for during her historic visit to Pyongyang in 2000.

However, the decision to send Clinton was kept quiet, revealed only when he turned up Tuesday in Pyongyang accompanied by John Podesta, his one-time White House chief of staff, who also is an informal adviser to Obama.

Discussions about normalizing ties with North Korea went dead when George W. Bush took office in 2001 with a hard-line policy on Pyongyang. The Obama administration has expressed a willingness to hold bilateral talks — but only within the framework of the six-nation disarmament talks in place since 2003.

North Korea announced earlier this year it was abandoning the talks involving the two Koreas, Japan, Russia, China and the U.S. The regime also launched a long-range rocket, conducted a nuclear test, test-fired a barrage of ballistic missiles and restarted its atomic program in defiance of international criticism and the U.N. Security Council.

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