August 27, 2010 / 4:59 AM / in 8 years

U.S. welcomes release of American freed by North Korea

Former President Jimmy Carter (C, left) hugs U.S. citizen Aijalon Mahli Gomes at an airport in Pyongyang, August 27, 2010 in this photo distributed by China's official Xinhua News Agency. Carter left Pyongyang Friday, taking home Gomes who had been detained in North Korea since January for illegal entry, Xinhua News Agency reported. REUTERS/Xinhua/Yao Ximeng

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The State Department on Friday welcomed the release of an American who had been imprisoned in North Korea and thanked former President Jimmy Carter for bringing him home.

“We welcome the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes and are relieved that he will soon be safely reunited with his family,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a statement.

“We appreciate former President Carter’s humanitarian effort and welcome North Korea’s decision to grant Mr. Gomes special amnesty and allow him to return to the United States,” Crowley added.

Gomes was arrested in January and sentenced to eight years of hard labor after being convicted for illegally entering the country. The former U.S. president left Pyongyang with Gomes early on Friday en route to Boston, the Carter Center said in a statement.

The State Department spokesman said Carter’s trip was a private, humanitarian, and unofficial mission.

“The former president traveled at the invitation of the DPRK (North Korean) Government. The U.S. Government did not propose or arrange the trip,” Crowley said.

Crowley added that the State Department “concurred” with Carter’s decision to accept North Korea’s invitation, because Gomes’ health was at serious risk if he did not receive immediate care in the United States.

Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Sandra Maler

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