Two Bay Area journalists who have been jailed in North Korea could arrive back in California within the next 24 hours after being pardoned during a visit to the country by former President Bill Clinton, who made the trip to negotiate for their release, a friend of the families said today.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who work for San Francisco-based Current TV, were arrested March 17 near the North Korean border, reportedly while working on a story about human trafficking along the Tumen River border area between China and North Korea.

Rebecca Delgado Rottman, who works for San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, said she spoke this afternoon with Lee’s husband, Michael Saldate, who confirmed that the women would be released and said they would likely return to the U.S. within the next day.

The families of Ling and Lee are both in Los Angeles, according to Rottman, who said the phone call with Saldate was “just so happy and ecstatic … all we could do was cry, but it was tears of joy.”

Rottman, vice president of community relations for the university, said she did not personally know Lee, who graduated from the university’s School of Motion Pictures and Television in 2001.

However, she said has grown close to the families after helping to organize vigils for the jailed journalists, who had been sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor for illegally entering into and committing “grave crimes” against the country.

Reporters without Borders, an international journalist advocacy group, had released a statement earlier today calling for the release of the journalists. The group said the women were suffering health problems because of their detention.

Rottman did not know whether the women faced health problems, but said she’s sure that “whatever medical problem that ignited during the time will be fixed immediately. The most important and most powerful medicine is to be home with their family.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger released a statement this afternoon celebrating the release of Ling and Lee.

“Maria and I happily join all Californians in celebrating the pardon of Laura Ling and Euna Lee. Both women risked their lives to search for truth in an area of the world where the press is often censored, and I applaud those who worked to negotiate their pardon,” Schwarzenegger said.

“Our heartfelt thoughts are with the families of Euna and Laura, and we wish them both a safe return to California,” he said.

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