North Korea ‘in talks to free US detainees’

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North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho leaves a Swedish goverment building in Stockholm on March 16. TT News Agency/AFP/File / Vilhelm STOKSTAD

SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea is in talks with the US and Sweden to release three Americans held in the North, reports said, as diplomatic activities gathered pace ahead of Pyongyang’s planned summits with Washington and Seoul.

The release of the three Korean-Americans – all held in the North after being separately charged with unspecified “hostile acts” – is under discussion through multiple channels almost two weeks after President Donald Trump agreed to meet the North’s Kim Jong Un, reports said.

Seoul-based MBC TV station reported Sunday that Pyongyang and Washington had “practically reached” a final agreement on the release of Kim Hak-song, Kim Sang-duk and Kim Dong-chul.

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Kim Dong-chul, a South Korea-born American pastor, has been detained by the North since 2015 when he was arrested for spying. He was sentenced to 10 years of hard labour in 2016.

Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang-duk were both working at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, founded by evangelical Christians from overseas, when they were detained last year on suspicion of “hostile acts.”

Reports on the detainees’ possible release come amid a flurry of diplomatic activities involving Pyongyang, Seoul, Washington and its allies.

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