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Carter arrives in North Korea to secure release of detained American

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Carter to try to free American prisoner
  • The American has been sentenced to eight years at a hard labor camp
  • Carter is traveling as a private citizen, administration officials say
  • Gomes' family is not commenting on the former president's trip

(CNN) -- Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter arrived in North Korea Wednesday to negotiate the release of an American held there.

Carter was greeted at the airport by the country's vice minister for foreign affairs, the communist nation's official news agency said.

The trip is intended to secure the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a 31-year-old Boston, Massachusetts, resident.

Gomes 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."

Video: American held gets visit

Carter travelled in his capacity as a private citizen, senior administration officials told CNN earlier. They added Carter had contacted the administration of President Barack Obama about the mission.

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

Thaleia Schlesinger, a spokesman for Gomes' family, offered no comment on Carter's trip to North Korea.

"We are grateful to the government of North Korea for the medical care Aijalon Mahli Gomes has received," she said. "We are requesting the government of North Korea grant him amnesty and allow him to return home on humanitarian grounds."

KCNA reported in July that Gomes had tried to commit suicide and was hospitalized.

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