American freed by North Korea arrives back in US

An American held hostage for six months in North Korea arrived home Wednesday after his surprise release, stressing he had been well treated and voicing support for two other US citizens still in detention.

Washington: An American held hostage for six months in North Korea arrived home Wednesday after his surprise release, stressing he had been well treated and voicing support for two other US citizens still in detention.

Jeffrey Fowle was reunited with his wife and three children in his home state of Ohio, after Pyongyang allowed a Pentagon plane to fly into the North Korean capital on Tuesday to collect him.

"Jeff would like you to know that he was treated well by the government of the DPRK (North Korea) and he`s currently in good health," his family said in a statement, read by their spokesman.

They thanked the State Department, the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang that acted as a go-between to secure his release, former US ambassador Tony Hall and everyone who offered "love, support and prayer" during Fowle`s detention.

North Korea said the "criminal" Fowle was freed as a "special measure" on the orders of leader Kim Jong-Un following "repeated requests" from US President Barack Obama.

In a brief report, the official KCNA news agency said Fowle, 56, had been handed over to the US authorities in accordance with relevant legal procedures.

But US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted Washington, which has no diplomatic ties with the North, had made no concessions to Pyongyang to win his release.

"No, there was no quid pro quo," Kerry said during a visit to Berlin, adding the United States was "very concerned about the remaining American citizens who are in North Korea."

Fowle was smiling broadly as he stepped off his plane carrying his luggage after arriving to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, US television showed.

But his family said Fowle`s thoughts were still with Americans Matthew Miller and Kenneth Bae, who remain in North Korea having been sentenced to work in hard labor camps.

"Although we are overjoyed by Jeff`s return home, we are mindful that Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller continue to be detained," the family said.

They added that they "understand the disappointment their families are experiencing today that their loved ones did not return home with Jeff."

His family said he now needed time to adjust to being home.

Fowle entered the North in April and was detained after allegedly leaving a Bible in the bathroom of a nightclub in the northern port of Chongjin.

North Korea heavily restricts religious activity in the isolated country.

Washington has condemned Pyongyang over the detentions, saying the men were being held as political hostages to extract diplomatic concessions.

The 24-year-old Miller was also arrested in April after he allegedly ripped up his visa at immigration and demanded asylum. Miller was sentenced to six years` hard labor.

Korean-American Bae, 42, was arrested in November 2012 and sentenced to 15 years` hard labor.Fowle`s release has been seen by some as a sign that North Korea may be reaching out to the outside world.

The nuclear-armed North wants a resumption of stalled six-party nuclear negotiations, but the United States and South Korea insist it must first prove it is committed to denuclearization.

Bae`s sister Terri Chung said Fowle`s release could be a "sign of hope."

And analysts said the unexpected release could be aimed at prying open the door to direct talks with Washington.

"It could mean the North Korean leadership is interested in exploring what might be possible in terms of picking up a conversation with the US again," said Paul Carroll, a North Korea expert and program director at the Ploughshares Fund in San Francisco.

In another possible sign of warming relations with the outside world, Tokyo announced Japanese diplomats will visit North Korea next week at Pyongyang`s request.

The trip will be the first official visit by Japan to North Korea in a decade. The two countries have no formal diplomatic relations.

South Korea has welcomed the release of Fowle but urged the North to release the two American detainees and a South Korean missionary who was arrested on espionage charges.

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