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'Please Save My Life!' US Works to Free Student from N. Korea

03-18-2016
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The United States is seeking the release of an American citizen detained in North Korea.

North Korea sentenced 21-year-old University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier to 15 years hard labor for stealing a political banner. The government says a video shows him stealing the banner from the hotel where he was staying with a tour group.

But he may be freed sooner than expected.

"I have made the worst mistake of my life," Warmbier said through tears in the courtroom.

The U.S. government is working to free him. His family has enlisted the help of former governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson.

"He did a college prank -- a mistake, but 15 years to be sentenced? That's crazy!" Richardson said. "Hopefully now, after this sentencing, it will mean negotiations can start on his release on humanitarian grounds."

"Please save my life. Please think of my family," Warmbier said in court.

Close to a dozen American tourists have been arrested in North Korea in the last six years, frequently because of Christianity. All but one have been released.

Kenneth Bae, a Korean American missionary, was also sentenced to 15 years hard labor for what North Korea's communist government called crimes against the state. He was released after a little more than two years.

The Obama administration is demanding an immediate pardon and release of Warmbier. North Korea will likely try to drive a hard bargain for what it wants. It's likely the U.S. government will be able to negotiate his release within a year or two, based on similar arrests in the past.

Meanwhile, North Korea launched two ballistic missiles off the West Coast of the Korean peninsula. The U.S. military is closely tracking and monitoring the situation.

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