North Korea releases American student Otto Warmbier

North Korea releases American student Otto Warmbier

Cheryl Sanders
June 23, 2017

Otto Warmbier, 23, a student at the University of Virginia, was arrested for stealing a propaganda poster as a tourist in North Korea in January last year and sentenced to 15 years' hard labour after a tearful confession.

The United States confirmed Wednesday it sent earlier this week a senior diplomat to North Korea to secure the release of an American student, who is said to be in a coma after being detained for more than a year.

His release came during the first day of a visit to North Korea by former National Basketball Association star Dennis Rodman, who said he was "trying to open a door" to the reclusive state.

"Our son is coming home", father Fred Warmbier said.

"At the moment, we're just treating this like he's been in an accident", he said.

Otto's parents, Fred and Cindy, told friends they had no idea how their son was, or if he was dead or alive. The University of Cincinnati Medical Center released a statement saying that Otto Warmbier would be treated there upon arrival.

But he also offered up little-known details about Kim, confirming his age and his birthday, for instance. We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalised and terrorised by the pariah regime in North Korea'.

Meanwhile, the ministry said that it has approved three more requests by local civic groups to contact North Koreans, raising the total to 21.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that Warmbier had been freed. He said that over the past 18 months, Warmbier's family has "had to endure more than any family should have to bear".

The State Department denied any connection between Warmbier's release and Rodman's visit, which President Donald Trump's administration said it did not authorise.

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 United States and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic relations.

The news of Warmbier's release comes the same day as basketball star Dennis Rodman arrived in Pyongyang for an expected four-night visit.

Otto was found guilty and sentenced in March 2016 to 15 year's hard labor.

The North has occasionally jailed USA citizens on charges ranging from hostile acts to illegal entry, and released them only after visits by high-profile figures including former president Bill Clinton.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a commentary that the two Koreas experienced "a precious era of reconciliation and unity" in that period. He'd been in custody since January 2016 and was sentenced in March 2016 in a one-hour trial.

Americans are regarded as enemies in North Korea because the two countries never signed a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War.

It's unclear what is on Rodman's agenda, though he said in a statement, "I'm really looking forward to spending time with the wonderful people of North Korea and of course, visiting with the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un".

American student Otto Warmbier, seen here arriving for his trial in Pyongyang in March 2016. Moon - a liberal who has historically worked for rapprochement, rather than confrontation, with the North - was critical of some aspects of USA policy in the region ahead of his election.

His entourage includes Joseph Terwilliger, a professor who has accompanied Rodman on previous trips to North Korea.

South Korea-born Kim Dong Chul, now aged around 63 or 64, was arrested in October 2015 on charges of espionage and other undisclosed crimes. Warmbier's release reduces the number of Americans held in the North to three - Kim Hak-song, Kim Sang-dok and Kim Dong-chul.

City councilwoman Jenni McCauley said the tight-knit community was "thrilled" to have Warmbier back.

Other reports by iNewsToday