Pyongyang suddenly frees American captive

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Pyongyang suddenly frees American captive

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Jeffrey Fowle, one of three Americans being held in North Korea, has been released. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Fowle was on his way home Tuesday after negotiators left Pyongyang. [NEWSIS]

WASHINGTON - North Korea’s reclusive government abruptly freed an American man on Tuesday, nearly six months after he was arrested on charges of leaving a Bible in a nightclub, but Pyongyang refused to hand over two other U.S. citizens who are still being held.

There was no immediate explanation for the release of Jeffrey Fowle, who was quickly whisked to the U.S. territory of Guam before heading back to his wife and three children in Miamisburg, Ohio.

Relations between Washington and Pyongyang, never warm, are at a particularly low point, and the United States has sought unsuccessfully for months to send a high-level representative to North Korea to negotiate acquittals for all three men.

Fowle’s wife, Tatyana, “screamed when I told her,” said family attorney Timothy Tepe, who received a call from the State Department with word of the release. Tepe said Fowle himself called his wife soon afterward.

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What appears to be a U.S. Air Force passenger jet, left, is parked Tuesday on the tarmac of Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang.[AP

“She is ecstatic, excited, use whatever word you want,” Tepe said.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Fowle was seen by doctors and appeared to be in good medical health. She declined to give more details about his release except to thank the government of Sweden, which has an embassy in Pyongyang, for its “tireless efforts.”

Harf would not say whether any American officials had intervened directly with the North Koreans.

“We’ll let the North Koreans speak for themselves about why did they decide to do this,” Harf said. “But we are pleased that he was able to leave, and urge the immediate release of the other two.”

Fowle was flown out of North Korea on a U.S. military jet which was spotted at Pyongyang’s international airport Tuesday by two Associated Press journalists.

There was no immediate comment from the government of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea and strongly warns American citizens against traveling to the country. Fowle, 56, arrived there on April 29 and was arrested in May for leaving a Bible at the nightclub. Christian evangelism is considered a crime in North Korea.

He was awaiting trial - the only one of the three Americans held by Pyongyang who had not been convicted of charges.

The two others - Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller - were each sentenced to several years in North Korean prisons after court trials that lasted no more than 90 minutes. The three Americans entered North Korea separately. AP

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