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Page last updated at 23:35 GMT, Tuesday, 4 August 2009 00:35 UK

North Korea pardons US reporters

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Clinton leaves North Korea with journalists

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has issued a special pardon to two detained US journalists.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee had been found guilty of entering illegally in March.

The news came hours after former US President Bill Clinton made an unannounced visit to Pyongyang on what was described as a private mission.

Mr Clinton has now flown out of North Korea with the two journalists on a plane bound for Los Angeles, his spokesman says.

Mr Clinton is the highest-profile American to visit since ex-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000.

"Kim Jong-il issued an order... granting a special pardon to the two American journalists who had been sentenced to hard labour," the official North Korean News Agency (KCNA) said in a statement.

The women's pardon and release was a sign of North Korea's "humanitarian and peace-loving policy", KCNA said.

Families 'overjoyed'

The families of the two journalists said they were "overjoyed" by the news.

In a statement posted on a website, they thanked Mr Clinton and also former Vice-President Al Gore for their efforts to get the women released.

Washington had made no announcement of Mr Clinton's trip prior to his arrival on Tuesday, but later stressed it was a private visit.

However, media reports in Washington suggest the White House approved the mission and it had been secretly planned for weeks, our correspondent says.