Page last updated at 20:04 GMT, Friday, 5 February 2010

North Korea 'to free US activist Robert Park'

Undated picture of Robert Park released by KCNA on 5 February
Mr Park is a US citizen of Korean ancestry

North Korea is to release a US man arrested and held since December for illegally entering the country, state news agency KCNA has said.

Religious activist Robert Park crossed into the country from China by walking across a frozen river late last year.

Mr Park is expected to travel to Beijing on Friday, US state department spokesman PJ Crowley said.

KCNA reports that the North Korean authorities have decided to "forgive and release" Mr Park.

Washington has made no special offers to Pyongyang to ensure Mr Park's freedom, Mr Crowley added.

"There was no deal involved here," he was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

Mr Park, who had reportedly wanted to highlight human rights issues in North Korea, was said to have admitted his mistake.

"The relevant organ of the DPRK [North Korea] decided to leniently forgive and release him, taking his admission and sincere repentance of his wrongdoings into consideration," KCNA said.

Mr Park, a US citizen of Korean ancestry from Tucson, Arizon, entered North Korea on foot, walking across the frozen Tumen River on 24 or 25 December last year.

According to his associates, 28-year-old Mr Park claimed he had seen a vision from God of North Korea's liberation and redemption.

They said he had walked across the border shouting: "I am an American citizen. I brought God's love. God loves you and God bless you."

'False propaganda'

His family in the US rejoiced at the prospect of his release.

"We are very excited but I don't know if it's real or not. We have to wait and see if it's really happening", his father Pyong Park was quoted as saying by AP.

Mr Park is now reported to have confessed that he crossed the border because his view of North Korea was based on false Western propaganda, and that he now realises that religious freedom is fully ensured.

However, Mr Park's statement was dismissed as "propaganda" by the US pastor who ordained Mr Park as a missionary in 2007.

"I want to hear Robert for himself", the Reverend John Benson, Tucson, Arizona, was quoted as saying by AP.

The BBC's John Sudworth, in Seoul, says that if North Korea fulfils its promise Mr Park will be the third US citizen released in recent months.

In 2009, North Korea detained two US journalists on the border with China.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee were sentenced to 12 years' hard labour but were freed as part of a diplomatic mission spearheaded by former US President Bill Clinton in August after four months in captivity.

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