US State Secretary: North Korea Frees American Citizen

Nick Mcbride
June 14, 2017

In rare high-level contacts, Yun met senior North Korean officials in Oslo in May, where it was agreed that Swedish officials in Pyongyang, who handle USA consular affairs there, would be allowed to see all four American detainees, a State Department official said.

People, believed to be family members, approach and board the medical transport plane carrying Otto Warmbier before he was transferred to an awaiting ambulance at Lunken Airport in Cincinnati, Ohio, US, June 13, 2017.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says that North Korea has released Otto Warmbier, an American serving a 15-year prison term with hard labor for alleged anti-state acts.

The release of Warmbier, 18 months into a 15-year sentence, came as US President Donald Trump invited South Korea's new leader Moon Jae-In to Washington for talks on the escalating standoff over the North's nuclear program.

During a government-arranged news conference in Pyongyang, which was held a month before the ruling was handed down, a tearful Warmbier pleaded for his release, saying he stole the banner because a member of his church offered to buy him a used vehicle in exchange.

He was met by North Korean Vice Minister of Sports Son Kwang Ho at the airport, saying then, "I'm just here to see some friends and have a good time".

In the past, North Korea has held out until senior USA officials or statesmen came to personally bail out detainees. Yun and two physicians flew to Pyongyang and visited Warmbier Monday. A medical team and aircraft were organized, and North Korea was informed that a delegation would travel there.

Washington has no trade links with North Korea, and has been considering sanctioning companies from third countries who deal with the secretive regime of Kim Jong-un in violation of United Nations resolutions. The North Koreans agreed to allow consular visits to four Americans held in the North.

"We learned of this only one week ago", said Fred and Cindy Warmbier in a statement.

Meanwhile, the White House said Moon and Trump will meet on June 29 and 30 to discuss ways of building on what America frequently calls its "ironclad" alliance with South Korea.

"The UVA family will continue to keep the Warmbiers in our thoughts and prayers as Otto returns to the United States and his home where he will receive the care and support of those who love him", university President Teresa Sullivan said in a statement Tuesday.

She says it's an "extremely sad" situation that student Otto Warmbier (WORM'-bir) is in a coma.

A student at the University of Virginia, he had flown to North Korea that January as a tourist.

The U.S. government accuses North Korea of using such detainees as political pawns. The U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with the reclusive country and works through Sweden to deal with North Korean officials.

North Korea poses one of the greatest national security challenges for Trump as it tries to develop a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike America.

Before arriving this time, Rodman told reporters that Trump would be happy with the trip because he was "trying to accomplish something that we both need", prompting speculation that he may be operating as an unofficial envoy. A 2009 visit by former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, secured the freedom of American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling.

According to his parents, the University of Virginia student has been in a state of coma for over a year, and is being transported on a USA military plane in a coma. A former Virginia resident and naturalized American citizen, Kim Dong-chul, was arrested shortly after Warmbier on accusations of espionage, and was sentenced to 10 years.

THOMPSON: Otto's father, Fred Warmbier, told NPR his 22-year-old son had been beaten, brutalized and terrorized by North Korea.

Other reports by VgToday

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