TEHRAN, June 15, YJC - An American college student, who had been detained in North Korea for 17 months, has been freed after a reported visit by a US State Department official to Pyongyang and backdoor negotiations between the two sides.
TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) -
Citing an unnamed US official on Wednesday, Reuters said the release of Otto Frederick Warmbier came after Joseph Yun, the State Department’s special envoy on North Korea, paid a visit to Pyongyang and demanded his release.
North Korea’s KCNA news agency, however, said the 22-year-old student’s release had been based on a court decision and "on humanitarian grounds.” It provided no other details.
"Under a decision by the DPRK Central Court of June 13, American citizen Otto Warmbier who was serving a sentence of labor was returned on June 13 on humanitarian grounds,” the news agency said.
Warmbier was taken into custody in January 2016 and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March last year.
In a tearful confession in February, Warmbier acknowledged that he had tried to steal a banner containing a political slogan from the hotel where he had been staying.
The American student from the University of Virginia said he had been encouraged to take the banner as a trophy for a US church that had offered to pay him for it.
Warmbier’s parents said they were informed through contacts that Otto had fallen ill from botulism some time after his March 2016 trial and lapsed into a coma after taking a sleeping pill.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also confirmed on Tuesday Warmbier’s release from detention in North Korea, Presstv reported.
"At the Presidents direction, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea. He is on his way, en route home, to be reunited with his family,” Tillerson said. "We continue our discussions with the North Korean regime regarding the release of the three other American citizens that have been detained. We have no comment on Mr. Warmbier's condition out of respect to him and the family.”
Several Americans have been held in North Korea in recent years.
North Korea accuses the US of plotting with regional allies to topple its government.
Over the past weeks, Washington on Pyongyang have traded a barrage of military threats.
The US says it is concerned by the North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests.
Pyongyang has defied sanctions and international pressure, saying it will continue to strengthen its military capability to protect itself from the threat posed by the presence of US forces in the region.
North Korea says it will not give up on its nuclear deterrence unless Washington ends its hostile policy toward Pyongyang and dissolves the US-led UN command in South Korea.