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American Christian Detainee Jeffrey Fowle Released by North Korea and Flies Home on US Jet, State Dept. Says

( [email protected] ) Oct 21, 2014 02:58 PM EDT

American Detainee Jeffrey Fowle Released by North Korea
Jeffrey Fowle, an American detained in North Korea, speaks to the Associated Press in Pyongyang, North Korea, Sept. 1, 2014. Wong Maye-E/AP Photo

American detainee Jeffrey Fowle has been released from North Korea, six months after he was arrested, the State Dept. said Tuesday. Two other Americans, including Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, who have been tried and convicted of crimes are still being held.

Fowle, 56, of Miamisburg, Ohio, had been awaiting trial on charges of leaving a Bible at a nightclub in the northern port city of Chongjin last May. The Associated Press reported that he was flown out of North Korea Tuesday from Pyongyang's international airport.

White House spokesperson Marie Harf confirmed in a statement that Fowle has been allowed to depart North Korea and is on his way home to re-join his family.

"While this is a positive decision by the D.P.R.K., we remain focused on the continued detention of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller and again call on the D.P.R.K. to immediately release them," she said, adding that they will continue to "work actively" on their cases.

The Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang helped negotiate Fowle's release, which required the U.S. government to transport Fowle out of the country and do so within a time frame specified. The U.S. doesn't have formal diplomatic relations with North Korea.

Harf thanked Sweden for "tireless efforts," and provided no other detais about the Swedish government's involvement.

Washington has repeatedly tried to send a high-level representative to North Korea to negotiate the release of the three American captives, but was refused as recently as last month, according to Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, according to Foxnews.com.

Christian proselytization is a crime in North Korea.

Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae, 46, of Lynwood, Washington, is serving a 15-year sentence for "hostile acts" after North Korean government alleged he was part of a Christian plot to overthrow the regime. In Nov. 2012, he was arrested while leading a tour group in a special North Korean economic zone. His sister believes Bae's Christian faith was the reason he was arrested. In a recent interview with CNN, he said his health has deteriorated at the labor camp where he works eight hours a day, as he suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney stones. However, despite of what he called "hard labor," he said he has been treated "as humanely as possible," and encourages his family and friends to continue praying for him.

Bae, who has three children, was born in South Korea and immigrated to the U.S. with his parents and sisters in 1985. He had been living in China as a Christian missionary for about seven years before his arrest in 2009. Within the last few years, he began leading small tour groups, mostly of American and Canadian citizens, into a "special economic zone" designed to encourage commerce in northeastern North Korea.

In February, U.S. President Barack Obama urged the nation to pray for Bae and said that the U.S. is working toward his freedom.

"We pray for Kenneth Bae, a Christian missionary who has been held in North Korea for 15 months," he said. "His family wants him home, and the United States will to do everything in our power to secure his release because Kenneth Bae deserves to be free."