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Wednesday, November 27, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Jailed American Arrives Home For Thanksgiving -- North Korea Frees Washington Man

Seattle Times Staff: AP

Evan Hunziker, the 26-year-old Pierce County man accused of being a spy by North Korea, arrived at Sea-Tac International Airport late this morning and walked through customs into the glare of television cameras and into the arms of his teary-eyed mother, Jong Nye.

North Korea freed Hunziker today, ending a three-month ordeal in time for him to be home for Thanksgiving.

Hunziker said the North Koreans treated him humanely and said that it felt great to be home.

Hunziker said there was no truth to the charges that he was a spy. He said he now would go to see his father, who lives in Parkland, south of Tacoma.

Three-month ordeal ends

In Tokyo earlier today, Hunziker stepped off a U.S. Air Force jet, strode briskly to a waiting car and was whisked off to the Yokota Air Base hospital.

"It's a great relief to know that he's out of their hands," said his father, Edwin Hunziker, as his son began his journey home. "I'm just real happy he's out of that place."

Evan Hunziker's mother flew from Anchorage to Seattle last night to welcome her son, who is expected to join his parents for Thanksgiving.

Hunziker, who was living in Seattle earlier this year, had been detained since Aug. 24, when he crossed the border from China and was apprehended. North Korea accused him of spying for South Korea.

The United States and South Korea denied the charge.

Hunziker's relatives said he found Christianity after he spent

time in jail for drunken driving last year and had probably crossed the border to try to convert North Koreans.

Dressed in a gray overcoat, Hunziker looked well-fed but appeared weary after two months' confinement in a Pyongyang hotel followed by a month in a detention center.

Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., who accompanied Hunziker from North Korea after negotiating his release, said it appeared the North Korean military was against releasing Hunziker but went along with freeing him after his hotel bill was paid.

"What we paid was a small amount, no more than $5,000. North Korean judicial authorities imposed a fine for illegal entry into their country, but that fine was not paid. There was no quid pro quo by the United States," Richardson said.

`He's a good young man'

"He made a mistake. . . . He's not a spy," Richardson said. "I think he's a good young man. Let's just say he tried to be a tourist a little too much."

Hunziker told his father in an Oct. 12 letter that he entered North Korea as a pacifist, The News Tribune of Tacoma reported today.

"Tell the people that I came across the border as a Christian man first and foremost to promote peace, and that I have not confessed to being a spy," the newspaper quoted Hunziker as saying in the letter.

Two years ago, Richardson helped negotiate the freedom of a U.S. soldier whose helicopter had strayed into North Korea.

Richardson, who arrived in North Korea on Monday night, said that the North Koreans had showed a willingness to cooperate more with the U.S.

Relations between the U.S. and North Korea have been tense since Hunziker's detention and an infiltration by a North Korean submarine into South Korea in September.

Impoverished North Korea, suffering from food shortages caused by devastating floods, needs the help of South Korea and the United States to build modern nuclear reactors promised under a 1994 agreement.

Information from Seattle Times staff reporter Janet I-Chin Tu and Reuters is included in this report.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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