South Korea's Moon urges North Korea to return detainees swiftly

PHOTO: Reuters

SEOUL - South Korea's President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday North Korea should swiftly return South Koreans and Americans detained in the reclusive nation.

American university student Otto Warmbier, who had been held prisoner in North Korea for 17 months, died at a Cincinnati hospital on Monday just days after North Korea released him from captivity in a coma, his parent said.

Three other US citizens, who are ethnic Koreans, and six South Koreans remain in custody in North Korea.

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 wakefulness".

US President Donald Trump blamed the "brutality of the North Korean regime" for Warmbier's death.

South Korea's Blue House on Tuesday cited Moon as saying "it is very deplorable that North Korea does not respect human rights".

The South Korean government will make every effort for the return of those held in North Korea, a presidential spokesman Park Soo-hyun told a briefing.

North Korea said last month it was its sovereign right to"ruthlessly punish" US citizens it has detained for crimes against the state.

US student dies after release from North Korea

  • Otto Warmbier, the US student released in a coma after nearly 18 months in detention in North Korea, died, leading President Donald Trump to decry the "brutal regime" in Pyongyang.
  • The 22-year-old was medically evacuated to the United States, suffering from severe brain damage.
  • He died six days later surrounded by relatives in his home town of Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • "The awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible," the family said in a statement announcing Otto's death.
  • The young man was on a tourist trip when he was arrested and sentenced in March last year to 15 years hard labour for stealing a political poster from a North Korean hotel, a punishment the United States decried as far out of proportion to his alleged crime.
  • Doctors revealed that Otto had suffered severe neurological injuries, and described him as being in a state of "unresponsive wakefulness," opening his eyes and blinking, but showing no signs of understanding language or of being aware of his surroundings.
  • His family said that he first appeared anguished when he first arrived home, but died "at peace."
  • "Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance of his face changed - he was at peace. He was home and we believe he could sense that," they added.
  • "We thank everyone around the world who has kept him and our family in their thoughts and prayers. We are at peace and at home too."

Korean Americans Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song who worked at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) were recently detained for hostile acts against the state, according to North Korea's state media.

In March 2016, Kim Dong Chul, a 62-year-old Korean-American missionary, was sentenced to 10 years hard labour for subversion.

North Korea is also holding Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim. He was charged with subversion and given a hard labour life sentence in 2015.

Three South Korean nationals were detained in North Korea during their missionary work respectively since 2013 and the remaining three South Koreans are North Korean defectors who returned and are currently held in custody, a lawmaker briefed by the South Korean spy agency told reporters last week.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been heightened by dozens of North Korean missile launches and two nuclear bomb tests since the beginning of last year. Pyongyang has also vowed to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the US mainland.

Pyongyang continued to test-fire missiles since South Korean leader Moon took office pledging to engage in dialogue with Pyongyang