The families of two US journalists detained in North Korea have said they are "overjoyed" by news of their release following a visit to Pyongyang by former US president Bill Clinton.
Laura Ling and Euna Lee were pardoned and freed less than 24 hours after Clinton arrived in Pyongyang for a surprise dash during which he also held talks with Kim Jong-il, North Korea's leader.
Clinton flew out of North Korea early on Wednesday with the two journalists, who will be reunited with their families in Los Angeles.
Ling and Lee were arrested in March while reporting near North Korea's border with China and sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labour.
Both had been on an assignment for San Francisco-based Current TV, an online network founded by Clinton's former vice president, Al Gore.
The Lee and Ling families said in a statement they were "overjoyed by the news of their pardon" and thanked Clinton, the US government and Barack Obama, the US president.
"Both women risked their lives to search for the truth in an area of the world where the press is often censored"
Arnold Schwarzenegger, California governor
"We especially want to thank Bill Clinton for taking on such an arduous mission and Al Gore for his tireless efforts to bring Laura and Euna home," the statement said.
"We must also thank all the people who have supported our families through this ordeal, it has meant the world to us. We are counting the seconds to hold Laura and Euna in our arms."
Doug Ling, Laura Ling's father, said he was "elated" at news of the release.
"This is one of the happiest days of my life," he said outside his Los Angeles home.
"I'm so glad and I'm so thankful for all the people for their prayers and thoughts. I'm very thankful for the State Department, I'm very thankful to the government for doing all they can to gain their release."
|The two women flew back to the US in Clinton's chartered plane [Reuters]
Speaking out for the first time since the women's capture, Al Gore, said all staff at Current TV were overjoyed at the safe return of their two colleagues.
"Our hearts go out to them – and to their families – for persevering through this horrible experience," Gore said in a joint statement with fellow network founder Joel Hyatt.
"All our thoughts are with Laura and Euna and their families, who have shown remarkable courage and initiative for the 140 days of this ordeal."
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based journalists' rights group, also welcomed their release.
'Search for truth'
Meanwhile Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, said he and his wife were "celebrating" the journalists' pardon and wished them a safe return home.
"Both women risked their lives to search for the truth in an area of the world where the press is often censored," Schwarzenegger said in a statement.
Dianne Feinstein, a veteran California senator, also welcomed the news saying she hoped the Ling and Lee would be able to put their experience behind them, describing their release as a "humanitarian gesture".
"This has been an extremely difficult time for all involved, and I am grateful that this humanitarian gesture will allow them to begin a new chapter of their lives," she said.