North Korea releases 3 American prisoners ahead of a planned Trump-Kim summit

The three detainees were treated as “prisoners of war” and had not been seen since June, when a State Department official was allowed a brief visit with them


                            North Korea releases 3 American prisoners ahead of a planned Trump-Kim summit

Three American detainees have been freed by North Korea and are heading home with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, US President Donald Trump said Wednesday.

"I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health," Trump tweeted. 



Trump said he would be on hand when Pompeo's three "guests" land at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington at 2:00 am (0600 GMT) Thursday.

The release of the three — Kim Dong-chul, Kim Sang-duk and Kim Hak-song — had been expected as a goodwill gesture amid preparations for a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.



Trump said Pompeo had a "good meeting" with Kim and that a date and place had been finalized for the summit, a historic encounter called to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Washington is demanding that North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

South Koreans watch on a screen reporting the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visit to North Korea at the Seoul Railway Station on May 9, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Koreans watch on a screen reporting the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visit to North Korea at the Seoul Railway Station on May 9, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

These are the US citizens who were released:

Kim Hak-song

Kim Hak-song had been working for the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) undertaking agricultural development work with the school's farm.

He was arrested at Pyongyang railway station in May 2017 on suspicion of committing "hostile acts" against the government, as he was boarding a train headed for his home in Dandong, China.

Trump said he would be on hand when Pompeo's three "guests" land at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington (Getty Images)
Trump said he would be on hand when Pompeo's three "guests" land at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington (Getty Images)

Kim, who is in his mid 50s, was born in Jilin, China, and educated at a university in California, CNN reported, citing a man who had studied with him. He said Kim returned to China after about 10 years of living in the US.

PUST was founded by evangelical overseas Christians and opened in 2010. It is known to have a number of American faculty members and students are generally children from the North's elite.

Kim Sang-duk

Kim Sang-duk, or Tony Kim, was arrested in April 2017 at the capital's main airport as he tried to leave the country after teaching for several weeks, also at PUST.

South Koreans watch on a screen reporting the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visit to North Korea at the Seoul Railway Station on May 9, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Koreans watch on a screen reporting the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visit to North Korea at the Seoul Railway Station on May 9, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Kim is a former professor at Yanbian University of Science and Technology in China, close to the Korean border. Its website lists his speciality as accounting.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency has reported Kim is in his late 50s and said he had been involved in relief activities for children in rural parts of North Korea. It cited a source who described him as a "religiously devoted man".

In a Facebook post, Kim's son said since his arrest his family has had no contact with him. His family said Kim will soon become a grandfather.

Mike Pompeo held meetings with senior North Korean officials in Pyongyang on Wednesday (Getty Images)
Mike Pompeo held meetings with senior North Korean officials in Pyongyang on Wednesday (Getty Images)

Kim Dong-chul

Kim Dong-chul, a South Korea-born American businessman and pastor who is in his 60s, was sentenced to 10 years' hard labour in April 2016 after being charged with subversion and espionage.

He was arrested in October 2015 after he reportedly received a USB stick containing nuclear-linked data and other military information from a former North Korean soldier.

In a interview with CNN in January 2016, Kim said he was a naturalised American who had lived in Fairfax, Virginia. He said he once ran a trading and hotel services company in Rason, a special economic zone near the North's border with China and Russia.

A month before his trial, Kim had also appeared at a government-arranged news conference and apologised for attempting to steal military secrets in collusion with South Korea. The South Korean spy agency has denied involvement.

© Agence France-Presse