SEOUL, South Korea — Former President Carter flew out of North Korea on a private jet today after securing a special pardon for an American who had been jailed in the communist country since January.
Carter and Aijalon Gomes, 31, were expected to arrive in Boston later today, Carter Center spokeswoman Deanna Congileo said in Atlanta late Thursday.
North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Carter's departure, saying the ex-leader apologized for Gomes' actions.
The pardon "to set free the illegal entrant is a manifestation of (North Korea's) humanitarianism and peace-loving policy," KCNA said.
The rare trip by an American dignitary to the North Korean capital took place amid reports that leader Kim Jong Il was making a surprise trip to China. There was no indication that Carter and Kim Jong Il met during Carter's three-day trip.
Gomes had been arrested in January, accused of crossing into North Korea illegally from China. He was the fourth American in a year detained for sneaking into North Korea, a country that fought against the U.S. during the Korean War and still does not have diplomatic relations with Washington.
In April, North Korean authorities sentenced Gomes to eight years of hard labor and fined him the equivalent of $700,000 for trespassing and committing a "hostile act." Gomes "admitted all the facts," state-run media said.
Last month, North Korean media reported that Gomes attempted suicide, "driven by his strong guilty conscience, disappointment and despair at the U.S. government that has not taken any measure for his freedom," and was hospitalized.
A U.S. delegation, including a consular official, two doctors and a translator, earlier made a secret visit to Pyongyang to try to secure Gomes' release. The group visited Gomes at the hospital but were unable to negotiate his release, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
It's unclear what prompted Gomes to enter the repressive nation.