American student released from N. Korea prison arrives in US

AFP
An American student who fell into a coma while imprisoned in a North Korean labor camp returned to the United States late Tuesday after Pyongyang allowed him to be flown home, US media reported.
AFP
AFP

US student Otto Warmbier, seem here in February 2016, was arrested for committing hostile acts against North Korea.

An American student who fell into a coma while imprisoned in a North Korean labor camp returned to the United States late Tuesday after Pyongyang allowed him to be flown home, US media reported.

A military airplane carrying Otto Warmbier landed in his hometown of Cincinnati shortly before 10:20 pm (0220 GMT Wednesday), CBS News reported.

The release of Warmbier, 18 months into a 15-year sentence, came as US President Donald Trump invited South Korea's new leader Moon Jae-In to Washington for talks on the escalating standoff over the North's nuclear program.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said earlier in the day that his agency had "secured" the 22-year-old's release in talks with North Korea and is pushing for three more Americans to be freed. It was not immediately clear if he had made any concessions.

The news surfaced after the flamboyant retired NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman -- a former contestant on Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" reality show -- flew to Pyongyang to resume his quixotic quest to broker detente between his US homeland and Kim Jong-Un's government.

But State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the visit "had nothing to do with the release".

Warmbier's parents Fred and Cindy announced his release in a statement to CNN on Tuesday.

"Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March of 2016," they said. "We learned of this only one week ago."

On arriving in Cincinnati's Lunken Airport, Warmbier was transferred to a waiting ambulance that rushed him to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for urgent treatment, Fox News reported.

Warmbier's parents were told their son had contracted botulism and was given a sleeping pill soon after his trial in March last year and never woke.

The New York Times reported a senior US official as saying the authorities recently received intelligence indicating Warmbier was repeatedly beaten while in custody.

US officials refused to comment on his condition, but former ambassador and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson said he had spoken with the family.

"Otto has been in a coma for over a year now and urgently needs proper medical care in the United States," said Richardson, who has previously served as a special envoy to North Korea and still works on prisoner issues.

"We received a call from Cindy and Fred Warmbier early today to update us on Otto's condition. In no uncertain terms, North Korea must explain the causes of his coma."

Tillerson told US senators at the start of a budget hearing that the State Department had no comment on Warmbier's condition "out of respect for him and his family."


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