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Carter to go to North Korea to secure release of detained American

By Elise Labott, CNN Senior State Department Producer
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Carter to try to free American prisoner
  • The former president is expected to leave on Tuesday
  • Gomes has been sentenced to eight years at a hard labor camp
  • He is accused of illegally crossing into North Korea
  • Sources: The trip is not on behalf of the U.S. government

Washington (CNN) -- Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is planning to go to North Korea this week in the hopes of securing the release of an American man imprisoned for illegally entering the communist nation, officials said.

Carter's trip, expected on Tuesday, was confirmed Monday night by two senior administration officials and another source familiar

The sources described the trip as a "private humanitarian mission" to free Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a 31-year-old Boston, Massachusetts, resident who was sentenced in April to eight years at a hard labor camp for illegally crossing North Korea's border with China and for an unspecified "hostile act."

Carter will travel in his capacity as a private citizen and no U.S. government official will be on the trip, the sources said. They added Carter had contacted the administration of President Obama about the mission.

Video: American gets visit

One of the senior officials said Carter "will not be carrying any message on behalf of the United States government."

Various attempts by CNN to reach Carter were unsuccessful Monday.

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department declined to comment on a reporter's question about whether the government is planning to send an envoy to North Korea to try to secure Gomes' release.

North Korean state media KCNA reported last month that Gomes had tried to commit suicide and was hospitalized.

"We are engaged with the North Koreans to try to encourage them to release him on humanitarian grounds," said U.S. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley.

Separately, one of the senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said: "President Carter fits that role perfectly."

"He is someone in a position to take action as a distinguished international figure," the official said.

Two American journalists -- Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who had crossed the border in March 2009 and were arrested and sentenced to 12 years hard labor -- were released in August 2009 after former U.S. President Bill Clinton intervened.