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North Korea Plans to Release American Accused of Spying

By Kevin Sullivan
The Washington Post
TOKYO

An American held captive on spy charges for three months in North Korea will be released Tuesday, according to the U.S. embassy here. The man's father said his family agreed to pay the North Korean government $5,000 "room and board" as part of the deal to get him out of prison.

An embassy statement issued Monday in Tokyo said Evan Carl Hunziker, 26, is being released to Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, then will be flown to Tokyo aboard a U.S. military aircraft. Edwin Hunziker, the jailed man's father, said Friday that State Department officials told him Richardson was carrying the $5,000 payment demanded by the North Koreans.

"It's just ransom," said Edwin Hunziker, 65, in a telephone interview from his Parkland, Washington, home. He added that the North Koreans had originally demanded $100,000.

Richardson's office has not commented on Edwin Hunziker's assertions. Richardson, an unofficial White House emissary making the first high-level U.S. contact with North Korea since Hunziker's capture, is scheduled to meet reporters Tuesday night in Tokyo.

The younger Hunziker was captured by North Korean soldiers in August when he crossed the Yalu River from China into North Korea. He was charged with spying for South Korea, which U.S. and South Korean officials dismissed as ridiculous.

According to family members, he is 6 feet 3 inches tall, weighs more than 200 pounds, speaks no Korean, and, in the tightly sealed North Korean countryside, could not blend in because he resembles his father, who is of Swedish descent, as much as his South Korean-born mother. A former fisherman and laborer, he recently had become an evangelical Christian and was attempting to enter communist North Korea to preach, his family said.

The case has strained tense relations between the United States and North Korea. Evan Hunziker's anticipated release comes as North Korea is heading into winter short of cash, food, and oil. Some analysts viewed the cash demand as a sign of how strapped for currency the country has become.

"Asking for money shows they are in a very, very desperate situation," said Chung In Moon, professor of political science at South Korea's Yonsei University.