Stu­dent’s death ‘a mys­tery’

Sunday Star-Times - - WORLD -

North Korea says the death of Amer­ica univer­sity stu­dent Otto Warm­bier soon af­ter his re­turn home was a mys­tery, and has dis­missed ac­cu­sa­tions that he died be­cause of tor­ture and beat­ing dur­ing his cap­tiv­ity as ‘‘ground­less’’.

North Korea’s for­eign min­istry spokesman said yes­ter­day Warm­bier was ‘‘a vic­tim of the pol­icy of strate­gic pa­tience’’ of former United States pres­i­dent Barack Obama, whose gov­ern­ment never re­quested his re­lease, ac­cord­ing to com­ments car­ried by the of­fi­cial KCNA agency.

‘‘The fact that Warm­bier died sud­denly in less than a week just af­ter his re­turn to the US . . . is a mys­tery to us as well,’’ the KCNA quoted the spokesman as say­ing.

Warm­bier, 22, was ar­rested while vis­it­ing the reclu­sive coun­try as a tourist. He was sen­tenced to 15 years’ hard labour for try­ing to steal an item bear­ing a pro­pa­ganda slo­gan from his ho­tel, North Korean state me­dia said.

He was sent home last week suffering from brain dam­age and in what US doc­tors called a state of un­re­spon­sive wake­ful­ness. He died on Tues­day.

Katina Adams, a spokes­woman for the US State Depart­ment’s East Asia Bureau, said Wash­ing­ton had re­peat­edly re­quested the re­lease of Warm­bier un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

A former se­nior State Depart­ment of­fi­cial said the US had made re­peated re­quests for Warm­bier’s re­lease on hu­man­i­tar­ian grounds un­der Obama, in­clud­ing via the North Korean mis­sion at the United Na­tions, via the Swedish mis­sion in Py­ongyang, at un­of­fi­cial talks with North Korean of­fi­cials in­volv­ing former US of­fi­cials, and via third par­ties.

Warm­bier’s death has fanned a con­flict be­tween North Korea and the US that was al­ready ag­gra­vated by North Korea’s de­fi­ant mis­sile launches and two nu­clear tests since early last year as part of its ef­forts to build a nu­clear-tipped in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile ca­pa­ble of hit­ting the US main­land.

The North’s for­eign min­istry spokesman said there was a smear cam­paign to slan­der North Korea, which had given ‘‘med­i­cal treat­ments and care with all sin­cer­ity’’ to a person who was ‘‘clearly a crim­i­nal’’.

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