U.S. student held prisoner by North Korea
dies days after release
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[June 20, 2017]
By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) - An American university student held
prisoner in North Korea for 17 months died at a Cincinnati hospital on
Monday, just days after he was released from captivity in a coma, his
Otto Warmbier, 22, who was arrested in North Korea while visiting as a
tourist, had been described by doctors caring for him last week as
having extensive brain damage that left him in a state of "unresponsive
"Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the
hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible
beyond the sad one we experienced today," the family said in a statement
after Warmbier's death at 2:20 p.m. EDT (1820 GMT).
His family has said that Warmbier lapsed into a coma in March 2016,
shortly after he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea.
Physicians at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he
died, said last Thursday that Warmbier showed no sign of understanding
language or awareness of his surroundings, and had made no "purposeful
movements or behaviors," though he was breathing on his own.
There was no immediate word from Warmbier's family on the cause of his
The circumstances of his detention in North Korea and what medical
treatment he may have received there remained a mystery, but relatives
have said his condition suggested that he had been physically abused by
The University of Virginia student and Ohio native was arrested,
according to North Korean media, for trying to steal an item bearing a
North Korea released Warmbier last week and said he was being freed "on
humanitarian grounds." [nL3N1JC1ZB]
The North Korean mission to the United Nations was not available for
comment on Monday.
U.S. President Donald Trump issued a statement offering condolences to
the Warmbier family and denouncing "the brutality of the North Korean
regime as we mourn its latest victim."
The president drew criticism in May when he said he would be "honored"
to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
"If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely,
I would be honored to do it," Trump said in an interview. "If it's under
the, again, under the right circumstances. But I would do that."
The student's father, Fred Warmbier, said last week that his son had
been "brutalized and terrorized" by the Pyongyang government and that
the family disbelieved North Korea's story that his son had fallen into
a coma after contracting botulism and being given a sleeping pill.
Doctors who examined Otto Warmbier after his release said there was no
sign of botulism in his system.
Warmbier was freed after the U.S. State Department's special envoy on
North Korea, Joseph Yun, traveled to Pyongyang and demanded the
student's release on humanitarian grounds, capping a flurry of secret
diplomatic contacts, a U.S. official said last week.
Tensions between the United States and North Korea have been heightened
by dozens of North Korean missile launches and two nuclear bomb tests
since the beginning of last year in defiance of U.N. Security Council
resolutions. Pyongyang has also vowed to develop a nuclear-tipped
intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.
China, North Korea's main ally, lamented Warmbier's death.
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"It really is a tragedy. I hope that North Korea and the United
States can properly handle the issue," Chinese Foreign Ministry
spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing.
Asked if the death would have an impact on high-level U.S.-China
talks on Wednesday likely to focus on North Korea, Geng said China
"remains committed to resolving the Korean Peninsula issue through
dialogue and consultation".
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States holds North
Korea accountable for Warmbier's "unjust imprisonment" and demanded
the release of three other U.S. citizens still held by Pyongyang -
Korean-Americans Tony Kim, Kim Dong Chul and Kim Hak Song.
Offering condolence to the Warmbiers, South Korean President Moon
Jae-in urged Pyongyang to swiftly return the foreign detainees
including six South Koreans. [nL3N1JH1F0]
A spokesman for the family of one South Korean detainee sentenced to
hard labor for life for spying in 2013 said the Warmbier's death was
"shocking and upsetting".
"I thought American citizens might be treated better than South
Koreans but looking at Otto’s case it is shocking. It also concerns
us even more regarding the missionary Kim’s situation,” Joo
Dong-sik, spokesman for the family of South Korean missionary Kim
Jung-wook who remains in custody, told Reuters.
Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae, who spent two years in North
Korean captivity before his release in 2014, expressed sadness at
Warmbier's death, calling it an "outrage".
"I cannot understand what the Warmbier family is feeling right now.
But I mourn with them, and I pray for them," Bae said in a
Young Pioneer Tours, the group with which Warmbier traveled to North
Korea, will no longer be organizing tours for U.S. citizens to the
isolated country, Troy Collings, a company director, said in a
Two of the other largest agencies to take Western tourists to North
Korea also said they were reconsidering taking U.S. tourists.
Uri Tours, which is based in New Jersey, said on its website it was
“reviewing its position on DPRK travel for American citizens”. DPRK
is short for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North
Korea’s official title.
Beijing-based Koryo Tours said it was also reviewing whether or not
to take U.S. citizens on tours to North Korea.
“This young man did not deserve the disproportionate sentence given
to him,” the company said in a statement.
“What followed was a disgrace, which we categorically condemn - from
the paucity of information provided during his detention, and the
worrying lack of consular visits, to the distressing and horrifying
condition in which he was returned to his family.”
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by
David Alexander and David Brunnstrom in Washington, and Christian
Shepherd in Beijing, Ju-min Park and James Pearson in Seoul, Jon
Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; and
Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Toni
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