North Korea to Release South Korean Student Held Since April: Report

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By Reuters

North Korea will hand over a South Korean college student, holding a U.S. green card, later on Monday, six months after capturing him crossing into the country from China, an official at South Korea's Unification Ministry said.

The release of Joo Won-moon, who had been a student at New York University, will come days before the North celebrates the 70th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party on Saturday.

Image: Joo, a South Korean citizen who has permanent residency in the United States, leaves a news conference in Pyongyang
Joo Won-moon, a South Korean citizen who has permanent residency in the United States, leaves a news conference as portraits of North Korea's former leaders Kim Jong Il (R) and Kim Il Sung hang in the background, in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 25, 2015.KYODO / Reuters

Joo was caught in April crossing from the Chinese side of the Yalu River, North Korea's official KCNA news agency has said. Joo had admitted violating North Korean law but said he had been treated well by the North, KCNA said recently.

The North's Red Cross said in a message to the South that Joo will be released later on Monday, the South's Unification Ministry said. He will be handed over at the Panmunjom truce village along the militarized border, the ministry said.

Joo, who according to KCNA last month was 21 years old, has appeared on North Korean media and said he was in good health.

North Korea holds three other South Koreans and also a Korean-Canadian pastor, who was detained in February and according to North Korean state media confessed to crimes aimed at overthrowing the state.

South Korea welcomed the expected release of Joo and urged the North to free its other three nationals.

North Korea's highest court in June sentenced two of the South Koreans, who were accused of spying, to hard labor for life, calling the punishment a lesson for those who conspire with Washington and Seoul.

North and South Korea agreed in August to improve ties, after a standoff that threatened to become a armed conflict. Later this month, families separated by the 1950-1953 Korean war will meet for a reunion, the 20th such event.