'N Korea sentences US student to 15 years hard labour'

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Seoul, Mar 16: North Korea today sentenced an American student, who admitted to stealing propaganda material, to 15 years hard labour for crimes against the state, China's official news agency reported.

The sentence was handed down on Otto Warmbier, a 21-year- old student from the University of Virginia, by North Korea's Supreme Court, Xinhua said in a brief dispatch datelined Pyongyang.

US student sentenced 15 yrs hard labour

There was no immediate confirmation of the sentence on North Korean state media. Warmbier, who was arrested in early January as he was leaving the country, later said he had removed a political banner from the staff-only area of the Pyongyang hotel being used by his tour group.

His detention came at a sensitive time, as the US took a leading role in efforts to secure tough international sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear test on January 6 and a long-range rocket launch a month later.

In recent weeks, Pyongyang has maintained a daily barrage of nuclear strike threats against both Seoul and Washington, ostensibly over ongoing, large-scale South Korea-US military drills that the North sees as provocative rehearsals for invasion.

Warmbier had entered North Korea as part of a New Year tour organised by China-based Young Pioneer Tours. He was arrested when the group was set to return to Beijing on January 2.

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The United States has no diplomatic or consular relations with the North, and the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang provides limited consular services to US citizens detained there.

Warmbier is one of three North Americans currently detained in North Korea, which last month sentenced a 60-year- old Canadian pastor to life imprisonment with hard labour on sedition charges.

In the past, North Korea has used the detention of US citizens to obtain high-profile visits from the likes of former US president Bill Clinton in order to secure their release.

Detained foreigners are often required to make a public, officially-scripted acknowledgement of wrongdoing, and Warmbier was paraded in front of reporters and diplomats in Pyongyang at the end of last month. Footage of the event showed a sobbing Warmbier pleading to be released and saying he had made "the worst mistake of my life".

AFP

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