ST. PAUL (AP) -- After a month in Laotian prison and weeks of heavy diplomatic pressure, a Minnesota pastor was reunited with his family Thursday afternoon.
The Rev. Peter Rogness of the Evangelical Lutheran Church's St. Paul Area Synod was with the Mua family when Naw-Karl Mua arrived at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Rogness said Mua appeared to be in good shape.
"It was a long time before the smile came off his face," Rogness said in prepared statement.
The Mua family would not immediately comment on Naw-Karl's return. They have scheduled a press conference Saturday at the Beaver Lake Lutheran Church in Maplewood.
Mua, 44, and two European journalists were arrested and convicted in the death of a village security guard in Laos. The journalists had been reporting on Hmong rebels -- a sensitive subject with the Lao government -- and Mua, a Hmong-American, had been their interpreter.
Shortly after the arrest, Laotian officials had said Mua could expect a speedy release, but then Mua and the journalists were sentenced to 15 years in prison. The case drew criticism from human rights groups, who said the three had not been given a fair hearing.
U.S. diplomats and members of the Minnesota congressional delegation negotiated with Laotian officials to secure Mua's release.
Two ethnic Hmong living in Laos who were arrested with Mua remain in custody. Amnesty International has received reports that police have beaten them.
Mua was released after his wife made a $2,500 wire transfer, apparently to cover court costs and pay restitution to the dead guard's family.
Laotian officials have said Mua would be released if he acknowledged guilt in the killing. It wasn't clear whether they held to those conditions before freeing him.
Mua is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He had gone to do missionary work in Thailand, where he met the journalists.
He was originally expected to return home July 15, but the U.S. State Department and the office of Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn. helped speed his return.
Mua's congregation -- established late last year and made up of four Hmong families -- shares the Beaver Lake chapel in Maplewood with another congregation.
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