US student in coma for a year in North Korea arrives home

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Otto Warmbier freed 18 months into 15-year sentence as Trump invites South Korean leader to Washington for talks on standoff

An American student who fell into a coma while imprisoned in a North Korean labour camp has returned to the US after Pyongyang allowed him to be flown home.

A military plane carrying Otto Warmbier landed in his hometown of Cincinnati shortly before 10.20pm (2.20am GMT) on Wednesday.

The release of Warmbier, 18 months into a 15-year sentence, came as Donald Trump invited South Koreas new leader, Moon Jae-In, to Washington for talks on the escalating standoff over the Norths nuclear programme.

The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said earlier in the day his agency had secured the 22-year-olds release in talks with North Korea and was pushing for three more Americans to be freed. It was not immediately clear if he had made any concessions.

The news surfaced after the flamboyant retired NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman a former contestant on Trumps Celebrity Apprentice reality TV show flew to Pyongyang to resume his quixotic quest to broker a detente between the US and Kim Jong-uns authoritarian regime.

The State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Rodmans visit had nothing to do with the release.

Otto
Otto Warmbier shown being escorted at the supreme court in Pyongyang in 2016. Photograph: Jon Chol Jin/AP

Warmbiers parents, Fred and Cindy, announced his release in a statement to CNN on Tuesday. Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March of 2016, they said. We learned of this only one week ago.

On arriving in Cincinnattis Lunken airport, Warmbier was transferred to a waiting ambulance that took him to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for treatment, Fox News reported.

Warmbiers parents were told their son was given a sleeping pill soon after his trial in March last year and never woke. US officials refused to comment on his condition, but the former ambassador and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson said he had spoken with the family.

Otto has been in a coma for over a year now and urgently needs proper medical care in the United States, said Richardson, who has previously served as a special envoy to North Korea and still works on prisoner issues.

We received a call from Cindy and Fred Warmbier early today to update us on Ottos condition. In no uncertain terms, North Korea must explain the causes of his coma.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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