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(3rd LD) U.S. student released from N. Korea dies

2017/06/20 07:03

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(ATTN: UPDATES with Trump statement in paras 5-7)

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, June 19 (Yonhap) -- A U.S. college student released from North Korea in a coma after 17 months of detention died Monday, his family said, blaming the "awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans."

   Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, died at 2:20 p.m., the family said.

"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.

"When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13, he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable -- almost anguished. 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," the statement said.

U.S. President Donald Trump condemned North Korea's "brutality."

   "Otto's fate deepens my administration's determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency," Trump said. "The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim."

   Following Warmbier's release last week, Trump said a "truly terrible thing" happened to Warmbier.

Warmbier was arrested in the North in January last year for stealing a political propaganda sign from a hotel and was later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He was released last week, but in a coma. North Korean officials claimed Warmbier fell into a coma in March last year due to botulism and a sleeping pill.

Doctors said Warmbier had severe brain damage.

"It would be easy at a moment like this to focus on all that we lost -- future time that won't be spent with a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds. But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person," the family said.

His death is expected to further exacerbate the already tense relations between the U.S. and the North. U.S. media, including the Washington Post, have called for stronger sanctions on Pyongyang after Warmbier's comatose release.

Earlier in the day, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton was asked during a briefing on the upcoming high-level security talks with China if the U.S. is considering any retaliatory action against the North for mistreating Warmbier, but she avoided a direct answer.

"We're certainly aware that there are three other American citizens still being held by the North Korean regime, and we very much hope that they can come home soon," she said.

The three other detainees are all of them Korean-Americans. 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.

jschang@yna.co.kr

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