Detained Americans released ahead of planned Trump-Kim summit

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, with senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chul and Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong. (AFP)
Updated 10 May 2018
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Detained Americans released ahead of planned Trump-Kim summit

  • The fate of the three Korean-Americans had been among a number of delicate issues in the run-up to the first-ever meeting of US and North Korean leaders.
  • The release appeared to signal an effort by Kim to set a more positive tone for the summit and followed his recent pledge to suspend missile tests and shut Pyongyang’s nuclear bomb test site.

WASHINGTON: North Korea released three American detainees and handed them over to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday, clearing a major obstacle to an unprecedented summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump said the three men, who were freed after Pompeo met Kim, were on the way home from Pyongyang on the chief US diplomat’s plane. The president planned to greet them when they land at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington at 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT) Thursday morning.

The release appeared to signal an effort by Kim to set a more positive tone for the summit and followed his recent pledge to suspend missile tests and shut Pyongyang’s nuclear bomb test site.

While Kim is giving up the last of his remaining American prisoners, who North Korea has often used in the past as bargaining chips with the US, it could also be aimed at pressuring Trump to make concessions of his own in his bid to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear arsenal.

“I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the three wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health,” Trump wrote in a post on
Twitter.

The family of Tony Kim, one of  the freed prisoners, thanked Trump, saying in a statement: “We are very grateful for the release of our husband and father, Tony Kim, and the other two American detainees.”

South Korea heralded the move as positive for upcoming talks between Trump and Kim, and called on Pyongyang to also release six South Korean detainees.

The fate of the three Korean-Americans — including Kim Hak-song and Kim Dong-chul — had been among a number of delicate issues in the run-up to the first-ever meeting of US and North Korean leaders.

As Pompeo returned to his Pyongyang hotel from a 90-minute meeting with Kim, the secretary of state crossed his fingers when asked by reporters if there was good news about the prisoners. A North Korean official came to the hotel shortly afterwards to inform Pompeo that Kim had granted their release, according to a senior US official present at  the exchange.

Pompeo replied: “That’s great,” according to the official.

“You should take care that they do not make the same mistakes again,” the North Korean official was quoted as saying. “This was a hard decision.”

They were in the air less than an hour after leaving custody.

Trump viewed the release of the three Americans as a “positive gesture of goodwill” ahead of the planned summit, the White Hosue said. It is planned for late May or early June.

The White House said the health of the three Americans appears to be in good condition and all were able to walk without assistance onto the plane. Until now, the only American released by North Korea during Trump’s presidency was Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old university student who returned to the United States in a coma last summer after 17 months of captivity. He died days later.

Warmbier’s death escalated US-North Korea tensions, already running high at the time over Pyongyang’s stepped-up missile tests.

The three newly released prisoners are Korean-American missionary Kim Dong-chul; Kim Sang-duk, also known as Tony Kim, who spent a month teaching at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) before he was arrested in 2017; and Kim Hak-song, who also taught at PUST.

North Korean state media says they were detained either for subversion or committing “hostile acts” against the government.


UN counterterrorism chief makes controversial trip to Xinjiang

Updated 26 min 27 sec ago
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UN counterterrorism chief makes controversial trip to Xinjiang

  • Vladimir Ivanovich Voronkov traveled to Beijing and Xinjiang from Thursday to Saturday last week
  • The officials exchanged views on international counterterrorism efforts and reached “broad consensus”

BEIJING: The UN counterterrorism chief visited Xinjiang last week despite protests from the US and a rights group that the trip would be inappropriate in light of the human rights conditions in China’s far west region.
Vladimir Ivanovich Voronkov traveled to Beijing and Xinjiang from Thursday to Saturday last week, said a statement Sunday from the Chinese foreign ministry. Voronkov and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng exchanged views on international counterterrorism efforts and reached “broad consensus,” the statement said.
The US, researchers and rights groups estimate that as many as 1 million ethnic Muslims may be arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang, home to the Uighur and Kazakh minority groups.
Former detainees have told The Associated Press that they were held without charge in “reeducation centers” where they were forced to denounce their faith and pledge loyalty to the ruling Communist Party. The Chinese government denies there is widespread abuse in these centers, which it says are vocational training schools aimed at combatting extremism and helping Xinjiang residents gain employable skills.
In a conversation with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday, US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan conveyed “deep concerns” about Voronkov’s visit.
“Beijing continues to paint its repressive campaign against Uighurs and other Muslims as legitimate counterterrorism efforts when it is not,” Sullivan said, adding that Voronkov was putting the UN’s reputation and credibility at risk “by lending credence to these false claims.”
Human Rights Watch said Friday the UN should have sent a human rights expert instead of a counterterrorism official.
China’s foreign ministry did not provide details of Voronkov’s trip to Xinjiang.
“Counterterrorism cannot be linked to specific countries, ethnic groups and religions,” the ministry said in its Sunday statement. “It cannot adopt ‘double standards.’ China supports the UN in playing a central coordination role in international counterterrorism affairs.”