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Journalists Ling, Lee Pardoned

Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who have been jailed in North Korea since March, have been "graciously" pardoned by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, the state-run Korean Central News Agency is reporting.

The journalists may leave North Korea with former President Bill Clinton, who arrived in the country early on Aug. 4 to negotiate their release.

The former president apparently had a very emotional meeting with Ling and Lee, who were sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor. They were producing a report for Current TV about North Korean refugees fleeing to China when they wandered over the China/North Korean border. They were quickly picked up by a military patrol.

KCNA reported that Clinton “courteously” delivered a verbal message from President Obama to Kim Jong-Il. But White House press secretary Robert Gibbs denied that and continued to stress that Clinton’s mission was a “private” one.

Clinton’s former vice president, Al Gore, is a co-founder of Current TV. In June, reports surfaced that Gore would travel to North Korea on a mission to negotiate the release of the journalists. He never made the trip. Clinton’s mission was kept secret by the North Korean and U.S. governments until the former president was en route to North Korea.The Society of Professional Journalists added its shout-out for the pardon of the pair.

On their joint Website, the families of Ling and Lee wrote: “Our girls are coming home!”

“We are counting the seconds to hold Laura and Euna in our arms.”

They also thanked Clinton as well as President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for their diplomatic efforts in securing the journalists’ release.

In a statement, Dave Aeikens, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, called the release “great news,” and added, “We are sorry it took so long for North Korea to do the right thing and we are grateful to former President Clinton for his involvement.”

Gore and Current TV co-founder Joel Hyatt also released a statement thanking the Obama administration for its "continuous and determined efforts" and Clinton for his "willingness to undertake this mission."

"All of us at Current are overjoyed at Laura and Euna’s safe return. Our hearts go out to them – and to their families – for persevering through this horrible experience."

Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said on the organization’s Website: “This has been a long and complex process given the situation on the Korean peninsula. We thank former President Clinton for his intervention and we are grateful that the North Korean authorities have responded to appeals for clemency. We know that the families of these two reporters will be relieved to have their loved ones back home.”

John Eggerton contributed reporting to this story.