Australian student released in North Korea says 'I'm fine'

TOKYO: An Australian student released after a week of detention arrived in Tokyo on Thursday after telling reporters that he was in a very good condition, without saying what happened to him.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison He announced to Parliament that Alek Sigley, 29, had been released after the intervention of Swedish diplomats and had been transferred to the Australian Embassy in Beijing.

Later on Thursday, Sigley flew to Tokyo's Haneda airport to meet his Japanese wife. He passed the reporters there without comment.

Previously, at the Beijing airport, he gave a sign of peace and said: I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine. I'm fine, but I did not answer the journalists' questions about what had happened in Pyongyang .

His father, Gary Sigley, a professor of Asian studies at Western University, said his son had been well treated in North Korea.

It was a much happier result than the case of the American university student Otto Warmbier, who was imprisoned in North Korea and sentenced for attempting to steal a propaganda poster. Warmbier died shortly after being sent back to the United States in a vegetative state in June 2017.

Sigley's friend and North Korean fellow student, Bronwen Dalton, a Sydney academic at the University of Technology, said he had spoken to Sigley's wife, who was excited about her release.

We were jumping up and down and we love Sweden, Dalton said.

He is a good young and emerging Asian scholar, he is very applied to his studies. I really doubted if he really did anything wrong with the regime, Dalton added.

Swedish diplomats had raised concerns about Sigley with North Korean authorities in Pyongyang, where Australia does not have an embassy.

The Swedish authorities informed the Australian government that they met with top DPRK officials yesterday and raised the issue of Alek's disappearance on behalf of Australia, said Morrison, using the official acronym of North Korea.

This result demonstrates the value of discreet behind-the-scenes work by officials to resolve complex and sensitive consular cases in close association with other governments, Morrison said.

In an interview with Swedish public radio, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said the country's special envoy to North Korea, Kent Harstedt, raised the issue of this case at the highest level in North Korea and the release occurred during his visit there.

North Korea's official central news agency said the Swedish delegation headed by Harstedt was heading home on Thursday after a four-day visit. He said the Swedes visited a stamp museum and a shoe factory during their stay in North Korea, but they did not mention Sigley.

The Pyongyang university student and tour guide had been out of contact with family and friends in Japan and Australia since Tuesday last week. He had been active on social media about his experiences in North Korea and had boasted about the extraordinary freedom he had been allowed as one of the few foreign students living in Pyongyang.

Morrison's announcement was the first confirmation that he had been arrested.

Morrison said he discussed the disappearance of Sigley with other world leaders who attended the Group of 20 summit in Japan last week and accepted offers to find out what happened to him. Morrison dined with President Donald Trump in Osaka, but declined to say who he talked to about Sigley's disappearance.

North Korea has been accused in the past of stopping Westerners and using them as political pawns to obtain concessions.

Leonid Petrov, an expert from the National University of Australia in North Korea and a friend of Sigley, speculated last week that Sigley had been deliberately excluded from the media temporarily because Trump was in the region.

Petrov said on Thursday he had not been able to contact Sigley since his release, but he still suspected his disappearance was related to Trump's meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday.

It was a moment of sensitivity in North Korea after the visit of the (Chinese President) Xi Jinping and before the visit of Donald Trump, '' Petrov said.

I expected this to happen a couple of days before, but it was good to see the Swedish government delegation arrive on Monday just after the summit. It was the right time to be there, Petrov added.

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