Three Korean Americans imprisoned in North Korea will be released before or during the upcoming summit of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean communist dictator Kim Jong Un, according to Korean media Naver.
The prisoners have already been moved from a forced labor camp to a hotel outside Pyongyang and are undergoing a “course,” where they are receiving treatment and are being “educated,” a North Korean source told Choi Sung-ryong, representative of the families of the prisoners.
The prisoners are Kim Dong-cheol (arrested in October 2015), Kim Sang-deok (arrested in April 2017), and Kim Hak-seong (arrested in May 2017).
The prisoners are receiving treatment because they “seemed to have deteriorated during the imprisonment,” Naver wrote.
If North Korea wants to use the release as a sign of goodwill, it may want to avoid last year’s outrage after American college student Otto Warmbier was released from a North Korean prison in a coma, only to die a week later.
North Korea is now looking for a way to deliver the released prisoners to the United States. It may happen during the summit with Trump, which is planned to take place in three to four weeks.
Kim Dong-cheol is a businessman born in South Korea who later became an American citizen. He lived in China close to the North Korean border until he was arrested in October 2015 for espionage. In March 2016, he apologized on North Korean state television for spying on behalf of South Korea, BBC reported, and was later sentenced to 10 years of forced labor, in line with the North’s practice of forced confessions leading to harsh sentences.
Kim Sang-deok formerly taught accounting at Yanbian University of Science and Technology in China, near the North Korean border.
He went on an assignment as a guest lecturer in accounting at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology and was arrested when attempting to leave the country, Kyodo News reported.
Kim Hak-seong worked at the same Pyongyang university before his arrest, Kyodo News reported.
The release of the three would be another win for Trump, who’s been credited by South Korean and Japanese officials for the historic breakthrough with the North.
The South and North Korean leaders met at the dividing line between the two countries on April 26 and agreed to work on a peace deal and complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
“His Administration successfully united the international community, including China, to impose one of the most successful international sanctions regimes in history,” the letter says. “The sanctions have decimated the North Korean economy and have been largely credited for bringing North Korea to the negotiating table.”