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South Koreans watch a TV news program about American missionary Robert Park at the Seoul Railway Station in South Korea. ((Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press))

An American missionary arrived in Beijing on Saturday after being freed by North Korea, which had detained him for illegally crossing its border from China on Christmas Day.

Robert Park, appearing pale and drawn, did not say anything as U.S. consular officials escorted him from the North Korean plane at Beijing's airport.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Susan Stevenson said Park would leave later in the day for the United States.

On Friday, North Korea announced it would free Park, saying he had shown "sincere repentance."

Park, 28, slipped across the frozen Tumen River into North Korea carrying letters calling on leader Kim Jong Il to close the country's notoriously brutal prison camps and step down from power — acts that could risk a death sentence in the totalitarian nation.

However, the North Korean government "decided to leniently forgive and release him, taking his admission and sincere repentance of his wrongdoings into consideration," the official Korean Central News Agency said.

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American missionary Robert Park, left, is escorted by a U.S. official as he is surrounded by journalists upon his arrival at the Beijing Capital Airport on Saturday. ((Andy Wong/Associated Press))

The report quoted Park, of Tucson, Ariz., as saying he was ashamed of the "biased" view he once held of the communist nation. Park did not respond Saturday to questions from reporters at Beijing's airport asking whether he had been speaking freely or under duress.

"We are just elated that he's been released safely," the Rev. Madison Shockley, a Park family pastor in Carlsbad, Calif., said by phone. "We cannot wait for him to land on American soil and to hear the truth of what he discovered there."

Shockley said Park's parents were told of the release by the State Department on Friday and were very happy but almost in shock.

"The mother will only truly believe it when he is in her arms," Shockley said.

Messages left for Park's parents and brother were not immediately returned.