Published: Mon, June 26, 2017
World Media | By June Phelps

American Student Freed By North Korea Arrives Home

American Student Freed By North Korea Arrives Home

Richardson, who previously attempted to secure Otto Warmbier's freedom, was responding to the news that the 22-year-old from Cincinnati was heading home.

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 to the USA on Tuesday as his local church continues to pray for him.

USA officials refused to comment on his condition, but former ambassador and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson said he had spoken with the family. "So I think that people are trying to be supportive of the family and let the community-family know that we are very with them". Rodman, in an interview with CNN before landing in North Korea, said he was "trying to accomplish something we both need", referring to himself and the Trump administration.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman says North Korea should be "universally condemned for its abhorrent behavior".

Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate, was convicted and sentenced in a one-hour trial in North Korea's Supreme Court in March 2016.

The BBC's Stephen Evans in Seoul says it remains to be seen if Mr Warmbier's illness is the direct result of brutality in prison.

"Fred, Cindy, and the Warmbier family have been remarkably strong throughout this ordeal". An ambulance took Warmbier from the airport to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

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Mr Warmbier's family said they were told by North Korean officials, through contacts with American envoys, that their son fell ill from botulism some time after his March 2016 trial and lapsed into a coma after taking a sleeping pill, the Washington Post reported.

Although Washington and Pyongyang have no official diplomatic relations, the US State Department's special envoy to North Korea, Joseph Yun made a visit to the hermit kingdom and demanded the release of Warmbier on what he cited as "humanitarian grounds".

"Dennis Rodman had nothing to do with the release of Mr. Warmbier", Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, was quoted as saying by the Post, adding that the US government was "thankful" he would soon be home in his parents' arms.

The U.S. government accuses North Korea of using such detainees as political pawns.

Joseph Yun, the US special envoy on North Korea, met with North Korean officials in Oslo, Norway, in May and reached an agreement for Swedish diplomats to visit Warmbier.

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, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Warmbier visited North Korea on an "adventure tour" organized by a China-based company specializing in budget trips to the reclusive country.

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Warmbier was serving a 15-year prison term with hard labor in North Korea.

The State Department announced Warmbier's release earlier Tuesday but gave no details on his condition.

Warmbier's release came as American retired professional basketball star Dennis Rodman started his five-day visit to the DPRK, a country he had visited four times before, raising speculation whether his non-official visit was connected with the release of the detained student.

On May 21, the day Warmbier would have graduated, UVA student leaders distributed "Free Otto" stickers and organized a tribute in his honor.

North Korea will top the agenda at next week's high-level talks between United States and Chinese officials, he added.

"This system imposes unduly harsh sentences for actions that would not be considered crimes in the United States and threatens USA citizen detainees with being treated in accordance with 'wartime law of the DPRK'".

There was some speculation that he might plead the case for the American detainees, but en route to North Korea he told reporters "my objective is to actually see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea".

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