Published: Tue, June 20, 2017
Entertaiment | By Lawrence Myers

US coroner investigating death of student freed from N Korea

US coroner investigating death of student freed from N Korea

The organizers of a trip to North Korea by an American college student who died after being released from prison in a coma say they will no longer take US citizens to the country.

North Korea returned Otto Warmbier, 22, to the United States last week, saying he had been in a coma for a year and that it was acting on humanitarian grounds.

His family did not give a cause of his death but said in a statement on Monday that the "awful torturous mistreatment" Warmbier endured while in North Korean custody meant "no other outcome was possible".

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.

His family said it was told he fell into a coma soon after his March 2016 sentencing after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill.

Meanwhile, the travel agency that organized Warmbier's trip said it will no longer take USA citizens to the north, calling the risk "too high".

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Otto was charged with spying by the paranoid North Korean regime, which then sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

As NPR's Michele Kelemen reported last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said his agency is considering a travel visa restriction to North Korea - but that would stop short of a full travel ban, which would require action by Congress. "It puts us in a really precarious situation when Americans are detained there".

"This makes it extremely hard for the United States to move forward to make any overture toward North Korea absent the release of the three other prisoners", said Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu.

At the meeting, North Korea agreed that Swedish diplomats could visit all four American detainees.

University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan sends her thoughts and prayers to Warmbier's family and friends "during what has been an incredibly hard time", adding Warmbier "will be missed by all those who knew and loved him".

"When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. Considering these facts and this tragic outcome we will no longer be organising tours for United States citizens to North Korea".

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"That should never ever be allowed to happen", Trump said.

The Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea tied Warmbier's fate to "millions of unknown North Koreans" who are "starved, tortured, brutalized and killed in North Korea's political prison camps". "Now, the assessment of risk for Americans visiting North Korea has become too high".

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.

US President Donald Trump offered his condolences to his family, describing Mr Warmbier as the "latest victim" of North Korean brutality. It was founded in 2008 by British expat Gareth Johnson, promising to take adventurous travellers to "the places your mother wants you to stay away from", including North Korea and Iran.

"I think this is an unfortunate thing", foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular news briefing.

"He was peace. He was home, and we believe he could sense that", they said. He said he would push for the release of the remaining USA prisoners as well as six South Koreans held in the country.

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