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Published: Thursday, 8/26/2010

Carter obtains pardon for American


SEOUL — Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter flew out of North Korea on a private jet today after securing a special pardon for an American who had been jailed in the communist country since January.

Mr. Carter and Aijalon Gomes, 31, were expected to arrive in Boston later today, Carter Center spokesman Deanna Congileo said in Atlanta late last night.

North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Mr. Carter's departure, saying the ex-leader apologized for Mr. Gomes' actions.

The pardon “to set free the illegal entrant is a manifestation of [North Korea's] humanitarianism and peace-loving policy,” the news agency said.

The rare trip by an American dignitary to the North Korean capital took place amid reports that leader Kim Jong Il was making a surprise trip to China. There was no indication that Mr. Carter and Kim Jong Il met during Mr. Carter's three-day trip.

Mr. Carter is well-regarded in North Korea despite the two countries' longtime animosity. Mr. Carter met with Mr. Kim's father, late President Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang in 1994 — a meeting that led to a landmark disarmament deal.

The North Korean news agency said today that North Korea's number two leader told Mr. Carter that the reclusive state is committed to denuclearizing the peninsula and resuming six-nation talks about its nuclear program.

Mr. Gomes had been arrested in January, accused of crossing into North Korea illegally from China. He was the fourth American in a year detained for sneaking into North Korea, a country that fought against the U.S. during the Korean War and still does not have diplomatic relations with Washington.

In April, North Korean authorities sentenced Mr. Gomes to eight years of hard labor and fined him the equivalent of $700,000 for trespassing and committing a “hostile act.” Mr. Gomes “admitted all the facts,” state-run media said.

Last month, North Korean media reported that Mr. Gomes attempted suicide, “driven by his strong guilty conscience, disappointment, and despair at the U.S. government that has not taken any measure for his freedom,” and was hospitalized.

A U.S. delegation, including a consular official, two doctors and a translator, earlier made a secret visit to Pyongyang to try to secure Mr. Gomes' release. The group visited Mr. Gomes at the hospital but were unable to negotiate his release, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

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