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Trump-Kim meeting sparks new hope for missionaries jailed in North Korea

© AFP (file photo) | North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump will meet by May to secure a deal to remove nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula, the USA White House said.

USA President Donald Trump agreed March 8 to a historic first meeting with the supreme leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un.

Speaking outside the White House after briefing Mr Trump, South Korean National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong said he had passed on a message that Mr Kim was “committed to denuclearisation” and had “pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests”.

Chung Eui-yong further said the North Korea leader “expressed his eagerness to meet president Trump as soon as possible.”

Trump’s approval was also confirmed by the USA White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

The planned summit slated for May has raised speculation the event could lead to the release of three Americans held by the reclusive state.

Foreigners visiting North Korea are permitted to possess Bibles, but North Koreans caught with them can expect to be jailed, tortured, or put to death.

 

Detained: Kim Sang Duk, Kim Hak-Song and Kim Dong Chul are the three Americans imprisoned in North Korea.

Kim Dong Chul, a Korean-American missionary formerly of Fairfax, Virginia and thought to be 62, was sentenced in March 2016 to 10 years of hard labor for subversion.

He admitted to committing “unpardonable espionage” under the direction of the U.S. and South Korean governments and deeply apologized for his crimes, the North’s KCNA news agency said.

Other Americans taken captive by North Korea have said after their release they were forced into making confessions. In an interview with CNN conducted in Pyongyang in January 2016, Kim said he was arrested in October 2015 after spying on behalf of what he called “South Korean conservative elements” who approached him while he was working at a trading business in Rason, a city in northern North Korea near the Chinese border.

A North Korean defector later said she had met Kim in the United States and that he had told church gatherings he was a missionary helping North Koreans.

Additionally, Kim Sang-duk, also known as Tony Kim, spent a month teaching accounting at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) before he was detained at Pyongyang International Airport in April 2017 while trying to leave the country.

The university’s chancellor said the arrest was not connected to PUST and that Kim, 59, had been involved with other activities, including helping an orphanage. North Korean state media reported that he was arrested for committing “hostile acts” against the government.

Kim Hak Song, thought to be 55, also taught at PUST, which was founded by evangelical Christians and opened in 2010

. The university’s co-founder said that Kim, who managed the school’s experimental farm at the college of agriculture and life sciences, was detained in May while traveling on a train from Pyongyang to the Chinese border town of Dandong.

In February 2015, Kim wrote in a fundraising post on the website of a Korean-Brazilian church that he was a Christian missionary devoted to helping North Korea’s people learn to be self-sufficient. North Korean state media said he also was arrested on suspicion of committing “hostile acts” against the government.

Additional Reporting by Reuters.

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