SEOUL, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- The United Nations secretary general's potential visit to North Korea could open a door to the release of Hyeon Soo Lim, the Canadian pastor who was sentenced Wednesday to a life of hard labor.
Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at South Korea's Sejong Institute, said Ban Ki-moon's recent announcement of North Korea travel negotiations makes it likely that during a visit to Pyongyang, the top U.N. official could request the release of Lim, a pastor and founder of Light Presbyterian Church in Toronto.
Pyongyang also could be moving toward a tactic of "pardon diplomacy," Cheong told Yonhap, adding, "It's difficult to say that Ban's push for a North Korea visit and the life sentence of hard labor for Pastor Lim, in terms of timing, is mere coincidence."
Cheong said North Korea has employed similar tactics for the release of foreigners in custody. In August 2009, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang on a private mission that resulted in the release of two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who had been detained for five months and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor.
"There's a high possibility that if U.N. Secretary-General Ban visits, Worker's Party Secretary Kim Jong Un would allow Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim to go home as a 'return gift' to Ban," Cheong said.
Lim's life sentence comes at a time when newly appointed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is testing Ottawa's international diplomacy skills.
The Globe and Mail reported Wednesday Trudeau had expressed "tremendous concern" at Lim's sentence, and added Canadian diplomats had been banned from visiting with Lim since he was taken into custody either late January or early February.
"The issues of North Korea's governance and judicial system are well known," Trudeau said. "We certainly hope to be able to engage with this individual and stand up for his rights."