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US student tourist jailed for 15 years in North Korea

A US tourist has been sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea. Authorities said the 21-year-old university student had stolen a political banner and was detained as he was trying to leave the country.

North Korea's highest court delivered judgment Wednesday on Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old tourist who allegedly attempted to steal a propaganda banner from a restricted area of his hotel.

The undergraduate who is enrolled at the University of Virginia was convicted and sentenced following a one-hour trial at the country's Supreme Court which found him guilty of subversion.

Warmbier had entered North Korea as part of a New Year tour organized by Young Pioneer Tours, a China-based travel agency. He was arrested when the group was set to return to Beijing on January 2.

North Korea media delivered reports of a

comprehensive confession by Warmbier

who reportedly said he'd taken the banner as "a trophy" for a member of the Friendship United Methodist Church in his hometown of Wyoming, Ohio.

The church member - a friend of Warmbier's mother - had reportedly promised him a used car worth around $10,000 if he succeeded and a payment of $200,000 to his family if he was detained, the media reports said.

"Since my family is suffering from very severe financial difficulties, I started to consider this as my only golden opportunity to earn money," Warmbier was quoted as saying.

'The worst mistake of my life'

Nordkorea Pressekonferenz Otto Warmbier

Otto Warmbier of Wyoming, Ohio

Detained foreigners are often required to make a public, officially-scripted acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Warmbier was photographed visibly distraught and apologizing last month in front of journalists and diplomats in Pyongyang.

His detention comes at a sensitive time. The United States is leading efforts to ramp up international sanctions on North Korea as Pyongyang

threatens to further test its nuclear arsenal and long-range rockets.

Warmbier is one of three North Americans detained in North Korea. A 60-year-old

Canadian pastor was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor

last month on sedition charges.

jar/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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