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Clinton urged N. Korea to free detainees from Japan and S. Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — Former President Bill Clinton urged North Korea to free detained South Koreans and make progress on the issue of abducted Japanese citizens, South Korean and Japanese officials said Thursday.

Clinton made the requests to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during a rare meeting in Pyongyang earlier this week that secured the freedom of two U.S. journalists detained for 140 days for allegedly entering North Korea illegally, the officials said.

North Korea has been holding a South Korean worker at a North-South joint industrial zone since late March for allegedly denouncing its communist regime. Last week, the North seized a South Korean fishing boat with four fishermen after it accidentally strayed into northern waters.

South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said he understood that Clinton conveyed to North Korea that the South Korean worker and fishermen "should be released on humanitarian grounds."

Moon said South Korea hasn't heard how the North Koreans reacted.

South Korea said Thursday it had no plan to send a special envoy to North Korea to try to win their freedom, but it still hopes for their timely release.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura told reporters that "Clinton urged Kim Jong Il to make progress" on the issue of abducted Japanese nationals. He cited an unidentified senior U.S. government official as the source of the information.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood declined to discuss whether Clinton had interceded with Kim to free detained South Koreans and to make progress on the issue of abducted Japanese citizens.

However, Wood said, "He was not carrying any messages on the part of American officials."

Wood said Clinton's trip to North Korea was a private, humanitarian mission.