Doubts Over 'Suicide Attempt' by American Detained in N.Korea

      August 30, 2010 09:21

      An American who had been held for seven months for illegally crossing into North Korea was freed last Friday when former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited Pyongyang. The North Korean regime claimed Aijalon Mahli Gomes tried to kill himself in jail, but it is unclear whether that was a ploy to blackmail a senior U.S. figure into visiting North Korea.

      The North's official KCNA news agency on July 9 reported Gomes tried to kill himself "driven by his guilty conscience and by frustration with the U.S. government's failure to free him." It said he was being treated in hospital.

      Aijalon Gomes reaches for his mother Jacqueline McCarthy after arriving at Logan International Airport in Boston on Friday. /Reuters-Yonhap

      After the news, the U.S. administration quickly decided to send Carter to Pyongyang. In mid-August, a U.S. State Department medical team visited the North to check on the prisoner.

      But in an interview with the New York Times last Saturday, Gomes' uncle Michael Farrow denied he attempted suicide but had gone on hunger strike.

      "I wouldn't say that he was anywhere near sick at all," the daily quoted Farrow as saying. "Naturally he probably had some discomfort of being away from home, but other than that he held up pretty good." This suggests that Gomes was protesting against his detention.

      Gomes arrived at Logan International Airport in Boston on the same plane as Carter on Friday and went home with his family without talking to the press.

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