US & Canada

Joy as North Korea detainees Miller and Bae return home

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Media captionA plane carrying the two men landed at a military base near Tacoma in Washington state

Two Americans who were released from detention in North Korea, Matthew Todd Miller and Kenneth Bae, have arrived to a joyful welcome in the US.

US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper accompanied the men back, the US has confirmed.

Mr Bae thanked his supporters and said that he had experienced an "amazing" two years in prison during which he had "learned a lot" and lost weight.

US President Barack Obama said he was "grateful" for their safe return.

He said it was "a wonderful day" for the men and their families.

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Media captionKenneth Bae: ''Thank you for standing by me''

A third US citizen, Jeffrey Fowle, was freed last month and no Americans are now being held in North Korea.

The plane carrying the two men landed at a military base near Tacoma in Washington state late on Saturday.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Neither Mr Miler nor his family made any comment after he arrived home

Speaking to reporters at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Mr Bae - who is reported to suffer from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and back pain - also thanked the North Korean government for allowing him to come home.

"It's been an amazing two year[s]," he said. "I learned a lot, I grew a lot, I lost a lot of weight,'' he said. Asked about the state of his health, the Korean-American missionary said: "I'm recovering at this time.''

Mr Miller and his family did not make any public statement.

The US had accused North Korea of using its citizens as pawns in a diplomatic game. Pyongyang denies the accusations.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he appreciated North Korea's decision to release the men and was relieved they were returning home.

'Hostile acts'

Mr Clapper travelled to North Korea for direct talks with the authorities.

Mr Obama said: "I appreciate the director doing a great job on what was obviously a challenging mission."


Analysis: BBC's Charles Scanlon

The release of the two remaining prisoners will raise hope of some diplomatic progress after a long period of deadlock between Pyongyang and Washington. Their release had been expected - only the timing was in doubt.

The leadership in North Korea would certainly see value in offering an olive branch to the US just before President Barack Obama prepares to sit down with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

Washington needs Chinese help in referring a damning human rights report on North Korea to the International Criminal Court. Mr Xi has already gone further than any of his predecessors to show irritation with an old Communist ally.

The direct participation of Mr Clapper will raise eyebrows in the region. The state department is denying a deal was done, and the confrontation over North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes looks as intractable as ever.


The US department of state said in a statement that it "welcomes the release of US citizens Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller from the DPRK [North Korea], where they have been held for two years and seven months, respectively".

It added: "The United States has long called on DPRK authorities to release these individuals on humanitarian grounds. We join their families and friends in welcoming them home."

The son of Kenneth Bae told Reuters: "It's awesome. Couldn't be happier."

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Media captionPresident Obama: "We are very grateful for their safe return"

Mr Miller, 24, had been sentenced to six years' hard labour in September for what North Korean state media described as "hostile acts".

He had been in custody since 10 April when, according to North Korean sources, he destroyed his tourist visa and demanded asylum.

Mr Bae, 42, was arrested in November 2012 as he entered the north-eastern port city of Rason.

He has been described as both a tour operator and Christian missionary. North Korea said he used his tourism business to form groups to overthrow the government.

He was sentenced to 15 years' hard labour in May 2013.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Jeffrey Fowle, who reportedly left a Bible in a toilet, flew home in October

Another American, Jeffrey Fowle, flew home to the US last month following negotiations. He was detained in early June as he was leaving the country and charged with "anti-state" crimes.

He was reported to have left a Bible in the toilet of a restaurant in the northern port city of Chongjin.

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