Ling, Lee Pardoned by North Korea, Will Return Home
American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling have been formally pardoned by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the official state news agency (KCNA) has reported.
In a statement released in the past hour, KCNA tells, "Kim Jong-il issued an order. . .granting a special pardon to the two American journalists who had been sentenced to hard labour."
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton travelled to North Korea by private charter in a surprise mission overnight and met with the country's leader. It is expected Ling and Lee will be returning with him to the United States within the next twenty-four hours.
The surprise visit by Clinton comes after weeks of behind the scenes negotiations with the North Korean goverment, according to multiple sources. Clinton was reported to have delivered a personal message to Mr. Kim from President Barack Obama, a report that White House spokesman Robert Gibbs denied earlier today.
The women had been detained by North Korea since their arrest in March for trespassing. They were later sentenced to twelve years hard labor. The U.S. State Department recently changed their appeal for the journalists' release to a request for amnesty.
Update: Freed journalists Ling and Lee were photographed boarding Clinton's privately chartered jet in Pyongyang at approximately 8:30 a.m. local time, and are now reportedly en route back to Los Angeles to be reunited with their families.
The New York Times is reporting that former Vice-President Al Gore, owner of Charter TV which employs the two women, was instrumental in getting Bill Clinton to serve as envoy in the negotiation for their release. He apparently made the request about ten days ago to Clinton, and Clinton agreed on the condition that the Obama administration did not object.
Former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta accompanied Clinton on the diplomatic mission to secure the release of the two journalists.