UVA student Otto Warmbier freed after 17 months in North Korean prison

North Korea has released 22-year-old American student Otto Warmbier from a 15-year sentence of hard labor, officials said Tuesday, as former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman arrived in Pyongyang.

He told reporters before departing Beijing airport on Tuesday that he was "just trying to open a door" with North Korea.

The trip comes at a time of heightened tensions between the US and North Korea, which has conducted missile tests and detained four American citizens.

North Korea has freed a long-detained American university student, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was quoted as saying Tuesday.

Speaking at the airport on Tuesday, Mr Rodman said: "I am pretty much sure that he [Trump] is happy with the fact that I am over here trying to accomplish something that we both need". Rodman was a cast member on two seasons of Trump's TV reality show "Celebrity Apprentice". He was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor for subversion after he tearfully confessed that he had tried to steal a propaganda banner.

"My objective is to actually to see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea, so that's the main thing", said Rodman, who spoke quietly and was escorted through customs and immigration by two handlers.

"We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime" in North Korea, Warmbier's parents said. Thousands of US troops are based in South Korea, and the Demilitarized Zone between the North and South is one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world.

When asked if he planned to raise their detention with North Korean officials, Rodman said: "Well that's not my goal right now..."

University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier has been held in North Korea for 15 months, and hasn't even been seen since March previous year, for trying to steal a propaganda poster while on a trip to the state.

University president Teresa Sullivan said in a statement that the school is relieved to hear Mr Warmbier was released, but is concerned about his condition.

North Korea regularly accuses Washington and Seoul of sending spies to overthrow its government to enable the US-backed South Korean government to take control of the Korean Peninsula. "He has to do his job", Rodman said of Kim in a press conference defending his visit.

Rodman, who won national titles with both the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons, has visited North Korea several times, including for a birthday celebration in 2014 in which he played basketball.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed the release, and said Washington remains in talks with the isolated regime "regarding three other U.S. citizens reported detained".

In Tokyo, a visiting senior US official said Rodman's trip is as a private citizen.

Rodman has met Kim on some but not all of his previous trips. The US does not have a diplomatic mission in North Korea. "Dennis, you're fired" Trump told the basketballer, who was wearing his trademark sunglasses and adorned with piercings.

"In a dictatorship no one can trust anyone, even with the extraordinary powers that Kim has", says Pinkston.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday called North Korea the "most urgent and risky threat to peace and security", noting that its nuclear and missile programs have progressed despite worldwide condemnation and warnings.

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman will visit North Korea.

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