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Freed journalists arrive at Burbank airport

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Former President Clinton and the two California journalists whose freedom from a North Korean prison he helped secure arrived early this morning at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, where they were greeted by dozens of family and friends.

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Their private plane landed about 6 a.m. and immediately taxied to a heavily secured hangar to meet the waiting crowd, which included former Vice President Al Gore and reporters and photographers.

Journalists Laura Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36, were greeted by kisses and hugs from sobbing family members, who had not seen them in four months. An emotional Laura Ling expressed her thanks for all those who helped in gaining their freedom.

"We could feel your love all the way in North Korea," Ling said. "It is what sustained us in our darkest hours. We are very grateful we were granted amnesty by the government of North Korea."

More photos As they walked off the plane, Ling pumped both fists in the air. She was embraced by her sister, mother and husband, followed by other family members. Gore arrived with both families. After several moments of hugs among relatives amid the constant clicks of cameras, Clinton emerged from the airplane to applause.

After a few minutes, Ling walked to the microphone with the rest of the group behind her, holding a folded piece of paper from which she read: "Thirty hours ago Euna Lee and I were prisoners in North Korea. We feared that at any moment we could be sent to a hard labor camp.

"And then suddenly we were told that we were going to a meeting; we were taken to a location and when we walked through the door 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."

After Ling spoke, Gore walked to the microphone and welcomed the pair home. During the 140 days the two women were imprisoned in North Korea, Current TV officials refused to talk about them.

Gore thanked everyone involved in getting the pair released and said President Obama and his staff "have been deeply involved in this humanitarian effort.... They have really put their hearts in this."

"This has been an ordeal for them but I want you all to know your families have been unbelievable, unbelievable, passionate, involved, committed, innovative," he said, turning toward the group of family members in casual wear and diplomats in dark suits.

PhotosDuring most of the news conference, Lee's 4-year-old daughter, Hana, stayed in her mother's arms, her hand resting on Lee's back or clutched behind Lee's neck.

"But Euna, Hana's been a great girl while you were gone, and Laura, your mom's been making your special soup for two days now," Gore said.

Security was tight at the early morning event, with police officers and U.S. Secret Service agents scattered throughout the hangar.

Ling, 32, and Lee, 36, were arrested March 17 near the North Korean border with China while reporting on fleeing refugees. They were on assignment for San Francisco-based Current TV, a cable and satellite channel co-founded by Gore.

In June, the women were convicted and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for illegally entering the country and “hostile acts.” On Tuesday, Clinton, the husband of Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton, arrived in North Korea to negotiate their release.

-- Raja Abdulrahim

Photo: (Top) Former Vice President Al Gore hugs journalist Laura Ling at the Burbank airport after she, Euna Lee (third from right) and former President Clinton returned from North Korea. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times (Middle and Bottom) Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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Comments () | Archives (47)

HURRAY!!

Lesson learned? Next time it could be worse! Lucky they didn't get there heads chopped off for being nosey!

Will Al Gore pay for this recovery effort?

This is a very fortunate happy ending to an extremely risky and unwise venture which should never have been started, and which has turned into a sensation feeding upon itself. Kim in North Korea is basking in worldwide publicity. Food for thought when it becomes more apparent that North Korea has now a startling opportunity to show that the United States has been used for "face" purposes.

I am grateful that these women are now back in the greatest country on earth. I have been praying for them since March. Let us not forget, however, the South Korean fishermen, the South Korean resort worker, and the plethora of Japanese citizens the North Koreans have kidnapped, along with its own citizens to include just last week the torture and killing of a North Korean woman for handing out Bibles.

Welcome back ladies!!

Now let's focus on the rest of the people stuck behind in the hard labor camps. They all matter. Let's shine some light on these people, and help them too.

Capt. AL, if it had been you, would you have given a hoot WHO paid!!! America pays for liberty as we have done since the Pilgrims arrived so long ago.

Is the "captain" moniker you use reflect what you served for or are you presumptuous in claiming something to which you are not entitled.

I can't believe the negative comments above! Two Americans are safe on American soil after the prospect of serving 12 years of hard labor for simply reporting. If all Kim Jong got in this deal is "face time", I say it was all worth it!

Bill Clinton stepping up and Obama administration allowing this is great. Never would have happened under previous administration. Talk about diplomacy.

Thank God and Presidents Clinton and Al Gore!
I'm SO happy for them Euna and Laura are very lucky!!
And all for the sake of Television and our entertainment!

I'M A LITTLE LESS IMPRESSED THAN THE MEDIA AND GULLIBLE PUBLIC BY THE MISCHEVIOUS BEHAVIOR OF MS LING AND MS LEE. GETTING THE STORY IS ONE THING, ILLEGAL ENTRY INTO A SOVEREIGN NATION (EVEN THE LIKES OF NORTH KOREA) IS SOMETHING ELSE AGAIN. AND, PLEASE, DON'T TELL ME THEY DIDN'T KNOW WHAT THEY WERE DOING OR WHERE THEY WHERE. YES, I THINK EACH ADVENTURESS SHOULD'VE DONE TIME. THE ACTIONS OF THE CLINTONS AND GORES WAS PREDICTABLE ENOUGH. LISA LING WAS LUCKY, INDEED, TO HAVE SUCH WELL CONNECTED FRIENDS IN WASHINGTON. FRIENDS WITH LOTS OF TIME ON THEIR HANDS AND LOTS OF MONEY.

Euna and Laura:
Thank you for your courage and for daring to bring us stories that matter --- no matter the price. I'm so happy you're both home.

Clearly Al Gore sucked in the moment and made this a PR stint for himself. Al Gore is a fake, shame on him for making this into a PR moment for himself- getting in front of microphone, "welcoming them home", etc. etc. Oh please. Where was he the whole time? Glad you'll never be president, you fraud.

I'm glad they were both release, especially for their families. It has been very stressful on them for the past four months.

Let's not forget L.A. Times readers these two ladies violated the North Korean immigration law. These reporters are not exempt from exercising good common sense.

These two female journalists has cost us (U.S.), a diplomatic advantage over the North Korean goverment. I believe these two ladies were pushing the envelope to get the breaking story on the N. Korean refugees, and therefore they both wanted to make a name for themselves. They both acted very selfish.

Now they will seat in front a camera and say, "We did not realize we had crossed N. Korean terretory, and soon after we were detained by N. Korean guards..."

The N. Korean goverment should have kept them for two additional months. These journalists got out easy, there are other prisoners that are still detained in N. Korea. What about them ladies? I really hppe you ladies have learn a good life lesson. But most of all show the American people that you will take responsibility for the mistakes you both made.

I really hope anyone out there is thinking about making a name for themselves, think about it a thousand times. I don't think other journalists will not be so lucky.

Now we have to concentrate in getting the three American hikers out of Iran.

Would like to see some info on who provided the aircraft and crew. Maybe even a thanks to the crew for a safe trip.

Would like to see some info on who provided the aircraft and crew for the trip. A thanks to the crew might be nice also.

Are these women actually intelligence agents acting as journalists? Nice crocodile tears upon arrival?

To OC based moron , who doesnt understand the delicate diplomacy that involves dealing with other countries that are not as diplomatic. Al Gore had to work BEHIND the scenes. This isnt a hollywood movie where some special forces unit blasts through the doors , or better yet , this isnt some sort of administration that goes on t.v and says "mission accomplished " or blasts through countries killing people ! measures were put in place and "assembled" as soon as these women were jailed. Wouldnt your common sense tell you this ? Thats what DIPLOMACY is about ! stay behind the ORANGE CURTAIN, and look up what democracy and diplomacy mean . Good Lord dude !

Two mediocre (at best) journalists broke the law and entered enemy territory. This sparked an international debacle that embarrasses Americans, who instead of fighting for ending nuclear attack, must fight for their moronic return to suburbia. Glad the families have their daughters back - sorry for the rest of us who have to face North Korea's anger with nothing to argue but the lives of fools. Note to others, they don't want us there and they have every right to keep us out. Let's discuss real peace and keep some American decorum by respecting international law before Entertainment Tonight starts sending models out to shoot fashion shows at the DMZ.

Americans do not have the right to go trampling where ever they like. If these women had obeyed the rules, they would not have had a problem. Who paid for this mission and the private plane? I'm going to be pissed if I find out if was we taxpayers.

Too much hate and ignorance posted. Try doing something/saying something positive for a change rather than typing your capital letters as you cowardly hide behind your computer screens.

My jaw dropped between the time I saw the pictures of Pres. Clinton meeting with Kim Jong Il and heard the report on the TV news that night that the North Korean government had decided to release the two female journalists on humanitarian grounds. (I have no problem with Al Gore speaking puffery as he did, and his team remaining mute about the pair. I wouldn't talk much, either, until I was absolutely sure it was safe.) They should have been more careful, but I'm glad it's apparently over. I'm not entirely sure about Amb. John Bolton's remarks re: pre-arrangement, etc. A lot of diplomacy involves advance work. Right?

I can sympathize with what these two reporters and their families went through during this ordeal, but I have to say that I'm not pleased with the carelessness of Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee in allowing themselves to become political pawns of the North Korean regime. It's one thing to chase a story, another thing to empower our nation's enemies through recklessness.

I'm glad these two are safe back home. There are other reporters stuck in a different country-Esha momeni who is also a journalist was jailed in Iran.

 
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