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(LEAD) Tillerson: N. Korea frees long-detained American university student

All Headlines 23:24 June 13, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with details, background)
By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, June 13 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has freed an American university student after holding him for 17 months, a move that could signal a conciliatory tone towards Washington amid intensifying U.S. pressure on the regime over its nuclear and missile programs.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement that Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student arrested in January 2016 while on a trip to the North, has been released and is "en route to the United States, where he will be reunited with his family."

"At the direction of the president, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea," Tillerson said.

His release brought to three the number of Americans held in the North, and Tillerson said the department "continues to have discussions with the DPRK regarding three other U.S. citizens reported detained."

Warmbier was arrested for stealing a political propaganda sign from a hotel and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

The three other detainees are all Korean-American men. Two of them, Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang-dok, were detained earlier this year, while the third, Kim Dong-chul, was arrested in October 2015 and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor on charges of espionage and subversion.

American visitors have often been detained in North Korea on charges of anti-state and other unspecified crimes. The widespread views are that the communist nation has used the detentions as bargaining chips in its negotiations with Washington.

Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary, served two years of detention in the North before being released in November 2014 when then-U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made a secret trip to Pyongyang to win his release and that of another U.S. detainee.

(LEAD) Tillerson: N. Korea frees long-detained American university student - 1

jschang@yna.co.kr
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