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N. KOREA MAY FREE AMERICAN PILOT ON CHRISTMAS DAY

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North Korea said it would release an American pilot on Christmas Day, more than a week after his helicopter went down in the communist country, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported Saturday.

But U.S. officials said they could not confirm the report or that talks had even taken place on the issue Saturday."I specifically cannot confirm either of those reports," said U.S. military spokesman Jim Coles. "We continue to want to talk to them."

Yonhap said the agreement to release Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Hall came during a meeting between U.S. and North Korean officials at the truce village of Panmunjom, in the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas.

A senior Pentagon official said he couldn't confirm the report.

"We have no confirmation of that and we believe it to be wrong at this stage," said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "There was supposed to be a meeting at Panmunjom, but it hasn't even started yet."

Hall's wife, Donna, said from her home in Brooksville, Fla., late Friday that she had heard nothing about an agreement from U.S. officials.

The release of the pilot would cap an incident that threatened to damage relations between Washington and Pyongyang that had been improving since they signed a nuclear accord two months ago.