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N. Korea says it is releasing U.S. citizen

Robert Park entered North Korea in December to bring a message of "Christ's love," his family says.
Robert Park entered North Korea in December to bring a message of "Christ's love," his family says.
  • NEW: Human rights group Pax Koreana says Park had not yet been released
  • NEW: Father describes being "so excited" by news of release but has no other info
  • Park set out on mission because of misunderstanding of North Korea, KCNA says
  • Park told relatives he wanted to deliver a religious message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il

(CNN) -- North Korea said Friday it was releasing an American detained in North Korea after reportedly illegally entering the country in December, state-run media reported.

"The relevant organ of the DPRK decided to leniently forgive and release him, taking his admission and sincere repentance of his wrongdoings into consideration," KCNA reported. The news agency earlier reported a lengthy account of what were said to be Park's misunderstandings about the North and how they had been proven wrong since crossing the border.

Pax Koreana, a Seoul, South Korea-based human rights group affiliated with Park, said he had not yet been released, but celebrated the announcement.

"Today, we announce God's victory and His awesome work to the world," the group said in a statement. "We declare that we will march for the freedom of NK (North Korea) in God unceasingly."

Tyong Park, Robert's father, said in San Diego that he was "so excited" by the news but had no other information about his son's release.

Robert Park told relatives before Christmas that he was trying to sneak into the isolated communist state to bring a message of "Christ's love and forgiveness" to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

After an investigation, North Korean authorities "decided to leniently forgive and release him, taking his admission and sincere repentance of his wrong doings into consideration," the state-run Korea Central News Agency said.

Park, a Korean-American missionary, set out on his mission because of his misunderstanding of the country, the North Korean news agency said.

During an interview with North Korean authorities, Park reportedly told investigators that "he was taken in by the false rumor spread by the West and committed a criminal act in the end." Park said he heard stories of concentration camps and of mass killings, prompting him to go to North Korea to help, the news agency said.

A South Korean Web site posted in December a copy of the letter it said Park was trying to deliver to Kim, urging the North Korean leader to free political prisoners and "open your borders so that we may bring food, provisions, medicine, necessities, and assistance to those who are struggling to survive."

But according to the North Korean news agency, once in North Korea Park said he was treated well and allowed to attend church and pray freely.

"People have been incredibly kind and generous here to me, very concerned for my physical health as never before in my life," the North Korean news agency quoted Park as saying. "I mean, my family, of course, is concerned about my physical health but people here have been constantly concerned and I'm very thankful for their love."

There was no immediate response from the U.S. State Department on Park's release. Washington and Pyongyang have no diplomatic relations. The United States relies on the Swedish Embassy to look after U.S. interests in North Korea.

A second American was detained on January 25 for trespassing into North Korea from China, the news agency reported last week. The individual was not identified.

CNN's Judy Kwon contributed to this report.