North Korea frees American student, parents say he's in coma

2017-06-14 07:55
Medical personnel and visitors at a transport plane carrying Otto Warmbier. (John Minchillo, AP)

Medical personnel and visitors at a transport plane carrying Otto Warmbier. (John Minchillo, AP)

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Washington - An American college student whose parents say he has been in a coma while serving a 15-year prison term in North Korea was released and returned to the United States Tuesday as the Trump administration revealed a rare exchange with the reclusive country.

A plane carrying Otto Warmbier, who's from Ohio, arrived in Cincinnati shortly before 22:20. Two ambulances were parked near an airport hangar.

Warmbier's release came during a visit to North Korea by former NBA star Dennis Rodman, one of few people to have met both North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump.

Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters Rodman had nothing to do with Warmbier's release. Rodman had told reporters before arriving in Pyongyang that the issue of Americans detained by North Korea is "not my purpose right now".

Securing Warmbier's release "was a big priority" for President Donald Trump, who worked "very hard and very closely" with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

While North Korea's move to free Warmbier could potentially provide an opening for talks on security issues, the prospects still appear bleak. International negotiations on the dispute over North Korea's nuclear program have been in limbo for years, as the US cranks up economic sanctions and North Korea won't give up weapons it considers a guarantee against invasion.

The detention of Americans, often sentenced to draconian prison sentences for seemingly small offences in the totalitarian nation, has compounded tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labour for subversion after he tearfully confessed that he had tried to steal a propaganda banner.

Three Americans remain in custody.

- Kim Hak Song, who was detained in early May to be investigated for committing unspecified hostile acts, North Korea has said. He worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

- Tony Kim, who also goes by his Korean name Kim Sang-duk, was detained April 22 at the Pyongyang airport. He had also taught at the university. He was accused of committing unspecified criminal acts intended to overthrow the government.

- South Korean-born US citizen Kim Dong Chul, who was sentenced in April 2016 to 10 years in prison with hard labour after being convicted of espionage.

Read more on:    us  |  north korea

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