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Freed journalists arrive at Bob Hope Airport

August 05, 2009|By Christopher Cadelago

BURBANK — Two American journalists made an emotional return to American soil at Bob Hope Airport Wednesday morning after former President Bill Clinton secured their freedom in a rescue mission to communist North Korea.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, journalists for former Vice President Al Gore’s San Francisco-based Current TV, sobbed as they stepped down from a chartered jet shortly after 6 a.m. to a swarm of international media broadcasting the images live across the world.

Ling, 32, pumped her fists in triumph and embraced her husband as Lee, 36, snatched up her 4-year-old daughter, whom she had not seen for nearly five months.

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Ling, flanked by Clinton and Gore, spoke for the pair, saying just 30 hours ago they were prisoners in North Korea who at any moment could be sent to a hard labor camp.

“And then, suddenly, we were told that we were going to a meeting,” she said. “When we walked in through the doors, we saw, standing before us, President Bill Clinton. We were shocked. But we knew instantly, in our hearts, that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end. And now we stand here, home and free.”

She praised Clinton and his “super-cool team” for securing their release, ending the nearly five-month ordeal that began in March with their arrest while reporting near the China-North Korean border.

“To our loved ones, friends and to the complete strangers with the kindest of hearts who showed us so much love and sent us so many positive thoughts and energy: We thank you,” Ling said, fighting back tears.

The women were convicted in June and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for illegally entering the country and “hostile acts” while working on a news report on human trafficking on the Chinese border.

Ling went on to say that the past 140 days in captivity had been “the most difficult heart-wrenching time of our lives,” adding that they were “very grateful” to the North Korean government for granting amnesty.

President Obama told reporters a short time later that he watched the arrival on television, calling it “a source of happiness not only for the families but for the entire country,” according to news reports.

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