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US-North Korea tensions to worsen after student’s death

The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim,” President Donald Trump said in a statement.

world Updated: Jun 20, 2017 22:56 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US North Korea,Donald Trump,Otto Warmbier
American student Otto Warmbier cries while speaking to reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea in February, 2016. The family of Warmbier who died days after being released from North Korea in a coma said the 22-year-old "has completed his journey home." (AP File)

Relations between the United States and North Korea are likely to worsen after Otto Warmbier, an American student medically evacuated recently from Pyongyang after 17 months in jail, died on Monday.

“The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim,” President Donald Trump said in a statement. And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US will hold North Korea “accountable” for the student’s “unjust imprisonment”.

Senior Republican senator John McCain, who is also chairman of the powerful senate armed services committee, said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s government had “murdered” Warmbier.

Though there were no immediate indications of impending sanctions or other punitive measures, the death could add to tensions between the two countries that are already high over a string of missile tests by Pyongyang and its leader’s repeated threat of a nuclear attack against the United States.

President Trump has said he expects China to rein in North Korea, its chief ally, but is prepared for the United States to act alone if needed.

The Washington Post said, “Warmbier’s death could push Congress or the Trump administration to restrict or ban Americans from travelling to North Korea.”

In Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said, “It really is a tragedy. I hope that North Korea and the United States can properly handle the issue.”

Warmbier, a 22 student of university of Virginia, died at a Cincinnati hospital just days after he was brought back to the United States. “When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13, he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands,” his parents Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement.

“He looked very uncomfortable — almost anguished. Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day, the countenance of his face changed — he was at peace. He was home, and we believe he could sense that.”

Doctors at the hospital have said he had suffered “extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of his brain”, caused possibly by a cardiopulmonary arrest. He might have suffered a massive brain injury around the time of his conviction in April, but it is not sure how.

Warmbier had gone to North Korea as part of a study-abroad programme conducted by a Chinese tour agency.

He was stopped at the airport from leaving and after a staged trial he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for what were described by the government as “hostile acts against the state”.

He was denied consular access and his parents were not allowed into the country to see him.

Three other Americans remain in North Korean prisons — Kim Dong-chul, Virginia resident, and Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song, Americans attached to the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

First Published: Jun 20, 2017 22:44 IST