South Korean President Moon Jae-in yesterday said North Korea should swiftly return South Koreans and Americans detained in the reclusive nation and that it had “a heavy responsibility” in the death of a U.S. university student.
Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old student 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 family said.
Three other U.S. citizens, who are ethnic Koreans, and six South Koreans remain in custody in North Korea.
Warmbier was arrested while visiting as a tourist and accused of trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan, according to North Korean media. Doctors caring for him last week described him as having extensive brain damage that left him in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness.”In an interview with CBS News, Moon said that while “we cannot know for sure that North Korea killed Mr. Warmbier … I believe it is quite clear that they have a heavy responsibility in the process that led to Mr. Warmbier’s death.”
“I believe we must now have the perception that North Korea is an irrational regime,” Moon told the CBS television network.
South Korea’s Blue House on Tuesday cited Moon separately 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, presidential spokesman Park Soo-hyun told a briefing.
U.S. President Donald Trump blamed the “brutality of the North Korean regime” for Warmbier’s death.
North Korea said last month it was its sovereign right to “ruthlessly punish” U.S. citizens it had detained for crimes against the state.
Korean-Americans Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song, who worked at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, were recently detained for hostile acts against the government, 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 of hard labor for subversion.