North Korea releases detained US citizen

North Korea had agreed to release Jun Young Su on "humanitarian grounds".

Seoul: US rights envoy Robert King on Friday won the release of an American citizen detained in North Korea on unspecified charges for the past six months, as he wrapped up a visit to the secretive state to assess its pleas for food aid.

The North`s KCNA state news agency said King had expressed regret about the case, and as a result Pyongyang had agreed to release Jun Young Su on "humanitarian grounds”.

It was not clear from the report if Jun would return home with King, who is due to depart the North`s capital on Saturday after a five-day visit.

Jun was arrested last November, and admitted committing a crime "against the state" during an investigation, KCNA reported.

Media reports say Jun was a businessman from California and that he had been doing missionary work in the isolated North.

There is a long history of the North detaining US citizens and releasing them with great reluctance.

The main purpose of King`s mission, the first ever by a rights envoy to the North, is to evaluate the destitute state`s pleas for food aid and whether the United States should provide help.

The North, squeezed by tightened international sanctions for nuclear and missile tests in 2009, has asked about 40 countries for food aid, although South Korea and some high profile US senators have questioned its claims of food shortages.

Pyongyang, hit by chronic food shortages for decades, says supplies have been worsened by poor harvests and bad weather.

The United States is under pressure to resume food aid after the United Nations said in a report this year that more than six million North Koreans urgently needed help.

Washington has stressed that King`s trip did not mean a resumption of aid was imminent. Some members of the US assessment team will stay on in North Korea until next week.

The United States suspended food supplies to the North in 2008 over a monitoring dispute and has said it will only resume them with the South`s agreement.

King`s visit, the first official US trip to North Korea since 2009, comes as the United States may be looking to revive multilateral talks on the North`s nuclear program after a hiatus of more than two years.

The North`s leader, Kim Jong-il, met Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing this week, and while there was no breakthrough on stalled six-party nuclear talks, Kim indicated he was not spoiling for fresh fights.

Last year, tension spiked on the peninsular after two attacks killed 50 South Koreans.

The 69-year-old North Korean leader returned home early on Friday, ending his third visit to the North`s powerful ally in a year.

Bureau Report