Korea trip off to uncharacteristic low-key start

Alvin Kelly
June 14, 2017

Otto Warmbier, an American university student held prisoner in North Korea for 17 months and said by his family to be in a coma, was medically evacuated from the reclusive country after a rare visit there from a high-level United States official. "At the moment, we're just treating this like he's been in an accident".

University president Teresa Sullivan said in a statement that the school is relieved to hear Mr Warmbier was released, but is concerned about his condition.

"We are so grateful that he will finally be with people who love him".

And speaking of anything goes, ex-Detroit Piston and Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman is going to North Korea and is expected to arrive Tuesday, CNN reports, citing two unnamed officials in that country.

"Well, I'm pretty sure he's pretty much happy with the fact that I'm over here trying to accomplish something that we both need", Rodman said in Beijing when asked if Trump was aware of the trip.

Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, had been charged with subversion by the DPRK and was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor in 2016. "Otto should have been released from the start".

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In a tearful statement made before his trial, Warmbier told a gathering of reporters in Pyongyang he was offered a used vehicle worth $10,000 if he could get a propaganda banner and was also told that if he was detained and didn't return, $200,000 would be paid to his mother in the form of a charitable donation.

The U.S. apparently only learned of Warmbier's condition about a week ago after Swedish diplomats visited him.

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He was met by North Korean Vice Minister of Sports Son Kwang Ho. "But we have issued travel warnings to Americans and suggested they not travel to North Korea for their own safety", said U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon to Reuters.

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

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.

Otto Warmbier (L) is seen heading to his March 16, 2016, trial in Pyongyang, North Korea.

The U.S. government accuses North Korea of using such detainees as political pawns. He was sentenced in March after a televised tearful public confession to trying to steal a propaganda banner.

Warmbier said he accepted the offer because his family was "suffering from very severe financial difficulties". He said that over the past 18 months, Warmbier's family has "had to endure more than any family should have to bear".

The New York Times quoted a senior United States official as saying Washington recently received intelligence reports that Warmbier had been repeatedly beaten in custody. He said Warmbier's sentence was "unnecessary and appalling". Richardson has played a role in past negotiations with North Korea.

Yun's trip was the highest-level US visit since then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper travelled to North Korea in 2014 to secure the release of two Americans, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller, who had been sentenced to hard labour. US officials did not confirm those details.

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