N. Korea frees 3 US detainees ahead of Trump summit

Washington: US President Donald Trump on Wednesday said three American citizens jailed in North Korea have been released and are on their way back home, in a move seen as a goodwill gesture ahead of a historic summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un.

Trump tweeted that he would greet the men when they return on Thursday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was in Pyongyang to arrange the planned talks.

“I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State 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,” he tweeted.

He added that Pompeo had a “good meeting” with Kim and said a date and place have been set for the meeting between the two leaders.

The Americans, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim, were able to “walk on the plane without assistance”, the White House said. They had been jailed for anti-state activities and placed in labour camps, CNN reported.

While Kim Dong Chul had been in North Korean custody since 2015, the other two were arrested in 2017. Their convictions were widely condemned.

Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, which bills itself as the only privately-run university in the North Korean capital.

Ahead of his visit, the second to North Korea in six weeks, the US Secretary of State said that he hoped North Korea would “do the right thing” and release the detainees.

South Korea’s presidential Blue House welcomed the release of the Americans, saying it would have a “positive effect” for upcoming negotiations.

Blue House spokesman Yoon Young-chan also called upon the North to release six South Korean prisoners.

In a statement provided to the BBC, the family of Tony Kim “thanked all those who worked towards and contributed to his return home”.

“We also want to thank the President for engaging directly with North Korea,” the family added.