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Canadian pastor on way home after North Korea release

A Canadian pastor was on his way home Thursday after being released from a North Korean prison where he spent the last two years, according to his family and the prime minister.

(FILES) This file photo taken by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 30, 2015 shows Canadian reverend Hyeon Soo Lim, who is was held in North Korea, during a public interrogation at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA / KNS

A Canadian pastor was on his way home Thursday after being released from a North Korean prison where he spent the last two years, according to his family and the prime minister.

North Korea’s official KCNA news agency announced Hyeon Soo Lim’s release Wednesday, saying he was freed on “sick bail.”

This came after a Canadian government delegation led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security advisor Daniel Jean traveled to Pyongyang to discuss the 62-year-old’s case.

“We are relieved to hear that Reverend Lim is on his way home to finally reunite with his family and meet his granddaughter for the first time,” Lisa Pak, a spokeswoman for the family, said in a statement.

She said the family was “relieved, grateful, excited, and anxious to see him home.”

Pak also thanked Canadian officials who “worked behind the scenes with North Korean authorities” to secure his release, as well as Swedish diplomats who assisted them.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement that he was “pleased and relieved” to confirm Lim’s release, adding that Lim would “soon be reunited with his family and friends in Canada.”

Lim was arrested in 2015 for allegedly meddling in North Korean state affairs.

The South Korean-born pastor had been accused of subversive acts against Pyongyang, an allegation Canadian authorities strongly denied.

Lim’s family became increasingly worried about his welfare after the death of American student Otto Warmbier in June, days after he had been released from a North Korean prison.

Three US citizens remain in custody as tensions with Washington have sharpened. The North said Wednesday it was considering a missile strike near US bases in Guam.

That comment came hours after US President Donald Trump threatened Pyongyang with “fire and fury” over its missile program.

Lim last year told CNN he spent his days in prison digging holes at an orchard. “I wasn’t originally a laborer so the labor was hard at first,” he said, his head shaven.

Pak said Lim has “a long way to go in terms of… healing.”

Trudeau said Lim’s “health and well-being remain of utmost importance to the government of Canada, and we are working to ensure that he receives any required medical attention.”

At the time of Lim’s arrest, other members of the close-knit circle of ethnic Korean missionaries in Canada and the United States called him one of the most influential Christian missionaries operating in North Korea.

He had visited the country dozens of times, working with orphanages and nursing homes.

But some projects he worked on, including a noodle plant and flour mills, were linked to associates of Jang Song-Thaek, the purged uncle of leader Kim Jong-Un.

Jang was arrested and executed for treason in December 2013.

Pyongyang views foreign missionaries with deep suspicion, though it allows some to undertake humanitarian work.

A number of Christian missionaries — mostly ethnic Koreans who are US citizens — have been arrested in the past, with some of them only allowed to return home after intervention by high-profile US political figures.