UPDATE AT 2318 KST: This article has been amended to include additional comments from the White House and PUST.
UPDATE AT 2225 KST: This article has been amended to include a statement by Tony Kim’s family.
North Korea has released three American citizens in its custody, U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday.
Kim Sang-duk (also known as Tony Kim) and Kim Hak-song were detained by North Korean authorities in April and May last year, while the third detainee, Kim Dong-chul, has been imprisoned since October 2015.
The news comes amid a surprise visit to the North by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – his second this year.
President Trump took to Twitter to announce the news of their release.
“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,” Trump said. “They seem to be in good health.”
The move comes ahead of a planned summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, slated to take place in late May or early June.
The President on Wednesday said that Secretary of State Pompeo had met with Kim during his brief visit to the North, reiterating claims made last week that a time and location for the upcoming DPRK-U.S. summit had been set.
The White House later added the three men could walk without assistance and were in good condition.
“President Trump appreciates leader Kim Jong Un’s action to release these American citizens, and views this as a positive gesture of goodwill,” the White House added in a press statement.
The family of Tony Kim released a statement following news of his release, thanking President Trump for “engaging directly with North Korea.”
“Mostly, we thank God for Tony’s safe return,” it continued, asking supporters to “continue to pray for the people of North Korea and for the release of all who are still being held.”
South Korea’s Blue House also welcomed the news of the release.
“We welcome North Korea’s decision to repatriate three U.S. detainees on (May) 9,” senior presidential secretary for public relations Yoon Young-chan said in a statement, describing it as a “very positive” development ahead of the planned DPRK-U.S. summit.
“We especially believe that there is not inconsiderable significance given that the three U.S. detainees were born in South [Korea].”
The release of the three men follows an ambiguous tweet by the President last week, in which Trump told followers to “stay tuned!” for news on the three detainees.
Administration advisor Rudy Guiliani on Saturday also said that “there is a good chance” they “will be released over the next several days.”
Both Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song were linked to the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the country’s only private university, and had been accused of carrying out “hostile acts” against the country.
Tony Kim was later alleged to have “aimed to overturn the DPRK” and committed “criminal acts of hostility” against the DPRK.
He was reported to be being held while a “detailed investigation” into his alleged crimes was carried out.
Wednesday saw PUST release a press statement welcoming the news and thanking those who were involved in working towards the prisoners’ release.
“On behalf of the PUST community, the leadership wants to express our sincere hope that our two co-workers and Mr Kim Dong-chul can now enjoy some peace and rest with their families and friends; and begin to rebuild normal life,” the statement from PUST reads.
Only one of the three Americans stood trial: Kim Dong-chul was in April 2016 sentenced to ten years’ hard labor for having committed “unpardonable espionage” on behalf of the U.S. and South Korea.
The most recent U.S. citizen to be released from North Korean custody was Otto Warmbier in June last year, who had been detained in the DPRK in 2016 for allegedly removing a propaganda poster from a wall.
Featured image: Facebook/KCNA, edited by NK News