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(LEAD) N.K. claims it offers medical treatment to Warmbier with 'sincerity'

2017/06/23 18:23

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SEOUL, June 23 (Yonhap) -- North Korea claimed Friday that it provided medical treatment and care with "sincerity" to an American college student who was detained for 17 months in the North and died days after being released in a coma last week.

North Korea's foreign ministry issued a statement seen aimed at defending itself against criticism that the North brutally treated Otto Warmbier.

"Although we had no reason at all to show mercy to such a criminal of the enemy state, we provided him with medical treatment and care with all sincerity on a humanitarian basis until his return to the U.S., considering that his health got worse," read the statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

It marked North Korea's first official reaction to Warmbier's death on Monday. The North previously released a short dispatch which said it released him on humanitarian grounds.

It claimed that his sudden death is a "mystery" to North Korea as his health indicators were "normal" when he was brought home.

Warmbier, 22, was arrested in January 2016 on charges of stealing a political poster from a hotel. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. His father insisted that his son was "brutalized and terrorized" in the North.

North Korea reportedly claimed that he fell ill from botulism sometime after his trial in March 2016 and has been in a coma after taking a sleeping pill.

Pyongyang insisted that Warmbier is a victim of former U.S. President Barack Obama's "strategic patience" policy with North Korea as he refused to have dialogue with Pyongyang.

The spokesman condemned the U.S. for advocating for sanctions and pressure against the North even as Pyongyang released him on humanitarian grounds.

"To make it clear, we are the biggest victim of this incident and there would be no more foolish judgment than to think we do not know how to calculate gains and losses," the statement showed.

North Korea has often detained visiting Americans on charges of anti-state and other crimes. Pyongyang has used their detentions as leverage in opening negotiations with Washington.

There are three more Americans held in North Korea. Kim Dong-chul, a 62-year-old Korean-American, was arrested in 2015 and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor on charges of espionage and subversion.

Two of them, Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang-dok, were taken into custody earlier this year. They worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology in North Korea.

Pyongyang is also holding six South Koreans including three missionaries and one Canadian pastor.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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