American student death prompts call for North Korea to release detainees

The China-based travel agency that organised a trip to North Korea for an American college student who died after being released in a coma from detention said it would no longer take USA citizens to the country. Doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center examined him last week upon his return to OH and reported that he had severe brain damage and was in a state of unresponsive wakefulness.

They believe their son's critical condition and death were caused by what they called "the very bad, torturous treatment he'd received" under the North Korean regime, after it sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly stealing a political poster from a hotel while on holiday.

His parents discount the North Korean claim that he contracted botulism, caused by a rare toxin, and then fell into coma after taking a sleeping pill. Medical professionals said during that time, he suffered extensive brain damage that left him in a comatose state.

"The devastating loss of Otto Warmbier's life has led us to reconsider our position on accepting American tourists", it said in a statement. Two of them were teachers at a private school while the third person worked in a special economic zone in North Korea.

Two other agencies that cater to Western tourists wanting to visit North Korea - Koryo Tours and Uri Tours - said they were reviewing whether to keep offering their services to Americans.

Mr Warmbier was convicted of subversion after he tearfully confessed that he had tried to steal a propaganda banner while visiting with a tour group from China. The US wants North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to abandon his nuclear and missile programmes.

Trump drew criticism in May when he said he would be "honoured" to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Parents Fred and Cindy Warmbier told The Associated Press in a statement the day of his release that they wanted "the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime " and expressed relief he had been returned to "finally be with people who love him".

"This had happened while Mr. Warmbier was in the detention of North Korean authorities", Moon Jae-in said Tuesday.

Otto Warmbier's body was transferred to the Hamilton County Coroner's officer where coroner Lakshmi Kode Sammarco will carry out her work.

He was kept there after giving a tearful press conference and was not seen again until last week when he was carried off a medical jet upon his return to the US.

Warmbier's family said they believed the student had found peace after being flown home. The company says the "tragic outcome" of Warmbier's trip - the American died after being jailed and had been in a coma - prompted the change.

It jars so strikingly with the fates of most past detained Americans that outside observers are left struggling not only with the mystery of what killed Warmbier but also with what his death means for attempts by Washington and its allies to stop North Korea's pursuit of a nuclear-tipped ICBM that can target the USA mainland. In contrast, Warmbier was 100% a United States citizen. The US government accuses North Korea of using such detainees as political pawns. He died six days after the North Koreans shipped his almost lifeless body home.

The Trump administration doesn't need an act of Congress to bar Americans from travelling to North Korea.

President Trump blamed the "brutality of the North Korean regime" for Warmbier's death. Pyongyang has also vowed to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the USA mainland. After 17 months of detention, the North Korean government last week handed the 22-year-old over to USA authorities in a vegetative state.

"This will be the first of many meetings", the scholar said.

  • Leroy Wright