Summit raises hope North Korea will release 3 US detainees

People watch a TV screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, left, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, March 9, 2018. After months of trading insults and threats of nuclear annihilation, Trump agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un by the end of May to negotiate an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, South Korean and US officials said Thursday. (AP/Ahn Young-joon)
Updated 13 March 2018

Summit raises hope North Korea will release 3 US detainees

TOKYO: Hopes for the release of three American citizens imprisoned in North Korea got a big boost by the news of a possible summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Freeing the prisoners would be relatively low-hanging fruit and a sign of goodwill by Kim. It would also mark something of a personal success for Trump, who has highlighted the issue since last June, when University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier died days after North Korea turned him over to American authorities.
Trump banned Americans from traveling to the North in response and featured Warmbier’s father prominently in his State of the Union speech in January.
A look at who the current American prisoners are and what a prison sentence in North Korea can entail:

The prisoners
All three Americans now doing time in the North are men, and all three are ethnic Koreans.
Two of them — Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song — were instructors at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology prior to their arrest and conviction. They are accused of anti-state activities and trying to overthrow the government. The university, which has not been linked to their arrests, is the only privately funded college in the North, founded in 2010 on donations from Christian groups.
Tony Kim, who taught accounting, has been in custody since April last year and is serving a 15-year sentence. Kim Hak Song, an agriculture specialist and evangelical minister who resided with his wife in China, was taken into custody about a month later. He remains in custody, but it’s not clear whether he has been sentenced or what his current status is.
The third and longest-serving prisoner, Kim Dong Chul, is a former Virginia resident who reportedly claims to have been the president of a trade and hotel services company in Rason, a special economic zone on the North Korean border with Russia. He was sentenced in April 2016 to 10 years in prison with hard labor after being convicted of espionage.

How they are tried
Suspects are often arrested when they try to leave North Korea. Warmbier, who was charged with anti-state crimes and the attempted theft of a propaganda banner, and Tony Kim were taken into custody at Pyongyang’s international airport, Kim Hak Song while on a train on his way home to China.
Before being put on trial, detainees are often held in a house-arrest-type situation at their hotel, and some say they were expected to pay the hotel bill for the extra days. They may also be moved to guesthouses or places where they are less likely to be seen by others while the investigation is underway.
Suspects are pushed hard to sign a confession, which many recant after they leave the country, and guilt is generally assumed by the time the case reaches a judge, or a panel of three judges. With little doubt about the outcome, rarely do the proceedings take more than one day — or even a few hours — to complete.
Foreigners charged with serious crimes such as espionage generally have their cases sent directly to the Supreme Court.

Life in prison
Americans aren’t thrown into the same prison system as North Koreans.
Kenneth Bae, a missionary from Washington state who spent two years in prison, said he was kept for the most part in a foreigners-only work camp. It’s possible it was, in fact, meant only for him — he never saw another prisoner there.
In an interview in Pyongyang, the capital, just before his 2016 release, Bae told The Associated Press that he was moved from the work camp to a hospital because of failing health and weight loss. He said he was then sent back to the work camp, which he believed was located not far outside Pyongyang.
He said he did a lot of digging and farm-related labor.
Bae, who was also accused of trying to overthrow the government, said after his release that his cell was small and barren and he was frequently interrogated early on. But he said he was never beaten and was allowed to keep his Bible and pray openly.

How they are freed
The United States and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang acts as a go-between when an American is detained.
North Korea claims that releasing American prisoners before they have completed their sentences is a “humanitarian” decision that must be made by Kim Jong Un himself. So, without any US diplomats or legal advocates on the ground, getting a release often requires a trip by a senior US statesman.
Former President Bill Clinton went to North Korea in 2009 to get two journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who had crossed into the country illegally from China and were given 12-year sentences. Former CIA director James Clapper visited in November 2014 to bring home Bae and tourist Matthew Miller, who was charged with espionage.
Former President Jimmy Carter — who since leaving office has traveled to North Korea three times and even met with Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather — brought home Christian missionary Aijalon Gomes in 2010. Gomes had been sentenced to eight years of hard labor for illegal entry and hostile acts against the government.
Joseph Yun, the top US negotiator with North Korea at the time, was the official who went to get Warmbier.


Sudan peace talks stall as rebel group halts talks over attack

Updated 56 min 33 sec ago

Sudan peace talks stall as rebel group halts talks over attack

JUBA: Sudan peace talks stalled before they began in Juba on Wednesday as a key rebel grouping said it refused to negotiate with Khartoum, claiming government forces were still bombarding its territory.

Juba is hosting talks between the government of new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and representatives from two umbrella groups of rebels that fought forces of now ousted President Omar Bashir in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.

The talks were launched on Monday in the presence of heads of state from Ethiopia, Egypt, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan.

The first face-to-face meeting between the adversaries was to take place in the South Sudan capital on Wednesday.

But Amar Amoua, secretary general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), told journalists his group would not continue unless the government withdrew from the area of the fighting, in the Nuba Mountains.

“Our coming back to negotiate ... is bound by government decisions to clear all these things,” Amoua, who is representing three different rebel movements, told journalists.

He said that for the past 10 days government forces had continued to attack their territory despite an unofficial cease-fire.

A chief was killed in the Nuba Mountains and several businessmen had gone missing, he charged.

“The government should withdraw its forces and stop ... occupying new areas, we will not allow that,” he said.

Dhieu Mathok, a member of the South Sudan mediation team, told AFP they were investigating the SPLM-N’s complaints.

“We are still investigating it whether there are really attacks in those areas or not, but this will not stop the peace process. Usually in a negotiation these things happen but we are here to resolve the problems.”

Mohammed Hassan, a spokesman for the Sudan delegation, attributed the fighting to an attack by herders on local merchants.

“The government regrets and condemns in the strongest terms these unfortunate events that keep happening in the area and in other parts of the country,” he said.

“We also regret that these events took place at a time when people are entering peace negotiations, and the country and the whole of the region is united for the cause of peace in Sudan.”

The new peace initiative comes after Bashir was toppled by the military in April.

Hamdok has been tasked with leading Sudan back to civilian rule, but he has said he also wants to end Khartoum’s conflicts with the rebels.

The years-long bloodshed has left hundreds of thousands of dead and forced millions to flee their homes.

The movement led by Abdel-Aziz Al-Hilu says it will not resume talks unless the government releases the detainees, withdraws from the area where they were seized, and declares a documented cease-fire. 

The SPLM-N is a rebel group in the states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, which had ceased all hostilities as a “goodwill gesture” after the overthrow of President Bashir. Al-Hilu’s movement controls significant chunks of territory in the region.