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Carter wins American’s release from North Korea

Former President Carter on Friday left the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, after negotiating the release of an American who had been imprisoned since January for illegally entering the secretive country, officials said.

Carter went to North Korea this week seeking the release of Boston native Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a former English teacher in South Korea who was sentenced to eight years in prison for entering the North from China in January.

North Korea’s state-run media reported in July that Gomes had tried to commit suicide.

“Former President Jimmy Carter announced that he is leaving Pyongyang, North Korea, this morning accompanied by Mr. Aijalon Mahli Gomes,” said a statement released Friday by the Atlanta-based Carter Center. “At the request of President Carter, and for humanitarian purposes, Mr. Gomes was granted amnesty by the chairman of the National Defense Commission, Kim Jong Il.”

The release did not specify whether Carter had met with Kim, who reportedly left for China on Thursday with his youngest son and presumed next North Korean leader, Kim Jong Eun.

In a brief news release on the visit, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said that a top North Korean official told Carter that the country was interested in resuming the stalled six-party anti-nuclear talks it abandoned last year.

Carter is scheduled to land in Boston on Friday.

Carter’s trip came amid tensions on the Korean peninsula after the March sinking of a South Korean warship, which has been blamed on a North Korean torpedo. North Korea denies involvement in the incident, in which 46 South Korean crewmen were killed.

The trip was Carter’s first to North Korea since 1994, when he met with then-leader Kim Il Sung and helped set the tone for a later breakthrough in nuclear talks.

The former president’s effort comes a year after former President Clinton met with Kim Jong Il to win the release of two American journalists who had also been sentenced to prison for illegally entering from China. North Korea had offered to free Euna Lee and Laura Ling of San Francisco-based Current TV if Clinton would travel to Pyongyang to negotiate their release.

john.glionna@latimes.com


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