Pyongyang says it released detained American on humanitarian grounds

Mia Cho, June 15, 2017, 10:35 a.m.


SEOUL, June 15 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Thursday that it recently released long-detained American college student Otto Warmbier on humanitarian grounds two days after he was medically evacuated to the United States.

North Korea sent the University of Virginia student back to his home country Tuesday for humanitarian reasons in accordance with a decision by the country's central court, the Korean Central News Agency said, without elaborating.

Warmbier, 22, returned to his home in Ohio in a coma after 17 months of detention on charges of stealing a political poster from a hotel.

North Korea reportedly claimed that he fell ill from botulism sometime after his trial in March 2016 and has been in a coma after taking a sleeping pill.

He was arrested in January 2016 on charges of anti-state acts and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

His release came after Joseph Yun, the top U.S. nuclear envoy, held a meeting in Oslo with North Korean diplomats and another in New York over the detained American.

There are three more Americans held in North Korea. Kim Dong-chul, a 62-year-old Korean-American, was arrested in 2015 and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor on charges of espionage and subversion.

Two of them, Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang-dok, were taken into custody earlier this year. They worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology in North Korea.

North Korea has often detained visiting Americans on charges of anti-state and other crimes. Pyongyang has used their detentions as leverage in opening negotiations with Washington.

South Korea's spy agency told a parliamentary committee that Warmbier is known to be in critical condition, according to lawmakers.

It said that North Korea has detained six South Korean nationals -- three pastors and three North Korean defectors. Four foreigners were taken into custody, it added.

The three detained South Korean missionaries -- Kim Jung-wook, Kim Kuk-gi and Choe Chun-gil -- were sentenced to hard labor for life on charges of spying for Seoul's intelligence agency.

Kim Jung-wook, 52, was arrested in October 2013 and the two others were captured in 2014 by North Korean authorities.

Other than the three Americans, Lim Hyeon-soo, a Korean-Canadian pastor, has also been held in captivity in the North since he entered the country via China on a humanitarian mission in January 2015.

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