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Ling: Courtesy from Clinton led to freedom from North Korea prison

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Ling: N. Korean soldiers 'hit me'
  • Laura Ling credits Bill Clinton for her eventual freedom from prison in North Korea
  • Ling, fellow journalist Euna Lee were jailed after crossing North Korea border
  • Ling spent 140 days in prison, but was able to communicate with family members

(CNN) -- One of two American journalists freed last year from a North Korean prison said Wednesday that their release was thanks to an expression of condolences made by former President Bill Clinton, to North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong Il.

"I tried to maintain hope as much as I could," journalist Laura Ling told CNN's "Larry King Live" of being sentenced to 12 years' hard labor along with fellow captive Euna Lee.

The women were apprehended in March 2009 after crossing into North Korean territory while reporting from the border between North Korea and China for California-based Current Media.

After being allowed unprecedented communication with her family in the United States, including four phone calls, Laura Ling was able to convey requests by her captors for a diplomatic rescue mission headed by Clinton.

Laura Ling: Silence is an oath I can't keep

"There was no deal," Ling said of their release in August 2009. "What President Clinton said on the plane ride home was that Kim Jong Il told him, 'You were the first person who reached out to me when my father ... died, even before my allies. I've always remembered that and I've always respected you for that and I've always wanted to meet you.'"

Laura's sister, TV personality and journalist Lisa Ling, helped coordinate the effort for their release and said, "I think what North Korea was trying to do was communicate these requests to me (through Laura), and they saw that we were actually executing what they wanted, and so they kept upping the ante" ultimately asking for the envoy to be Clinton.

Video: Laura Ling grateful to Bill Clinton

The Ling sisters have written a book about the ordeal titled "Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home." The book hit stores Tuesday.

Lee and Ling ended up spending 140 days in prison, but unlike other inmates, were allowed to receive and write letters to their families and make phone calls.

"I think that our ability to communicate really allowed North Korea and the United States to talk more directly," Lisa Ling said. "It's such a circuitous way our countries communicate ... and I think they figured out that by letting Laura and me talk somehow they could communicate messages to our country."

Laura Ling expressed empathy for her captors and the guards who oversaw her imprisonment saying, "I developed some very human bonds with them, (but) I don't hold the same regard for the North Korean government."

"I developed a better understanding for my captors and they of me, and I hope that they have a wider perspective about Americans and the United States," she said.