Update: On Monday afternoon KST and following publication of this article, Joo Won-moon was released and handed over to South Korean authorities at Panmunjom, as intended.
North Korea on Monday afternoon said they will send New York University student Joo Won-moon to South Korea, his nation of birth, after five months’ detention.
According to the South’s Ministry of Unification (MoU), North Korea will repatriate Joo to South Korea at 5:30 p.m. The South answered that they would accept him through the truce village of Panmunjom at the DMZ.
Joo, 21, who was studying at NYU on a U.S. green card, has been detained since April 22. North Korea in May announced that they had been detaining Joo since he crossed the border from Dandong, China, into North Korea in April.
Joo, who had chosen that method of entry into the North after a Google search, then appeared at press conference in Pyongyang, where he urged the South and the U.S. to change their hostile policies toward the North.
“All buildings, schools and museums share a common trait in that they were constructed under the initiative and guidance of President Kim Il Sung, General Kim Jong Il and Marshal Kim Jong Un to promote the welfare of the people,” Joo said at the time.
Past detainees in North Korea have said that they are frequently coached and coerced into making statements for international audiences.
“Sending Joo means being able to receive a visiting Chinese delegation to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding the Workers’ Party of Korea (on Saturday),” Cheong Seong-chang, head of the Unification Strategy Team at the Sejong Institute told NK News. “China has urged North Korea to improve its relations with its neighbors. We can see in this situation that North Korea responds to the demands of China.”
Cheong also said the North may have repatriated Joo to promote its own image as a peaceful nation that wants to lessen tension. This may be critical, he said, with talk of an upcoming rocket launch on the anniversary of the North’s ruling party on this weekend.
The MoU called the North’s decision to repatriate Joo a positive step, but said it should also repatriate detained South Koreans Kim Jung-uk, Kim Kook-gi and Choi Chun-kil in Northern side.
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