North Korea freed a Canadian pastor serving a life sentence on humanitarian grounds, the official KCNA news agency said on Wednesday, just hours after the United States warned it would counter any threat from the North with "fire and fury."
There was no clear connection between the release of Hyeon Soo Lim and the heightened rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang.
Lim, who served in one of the largest churches in Canada, had been sentenced to hard labour for life in December 2015 after North Korea accused him of attempting to overthrow the regime.
Lim had been freed and "will soon be reunited with his family and friends", a statement from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office on Thursday said.
His case was taken up by a delegation led by the country's national security adviser that had gone to North Korea earlier in the week, it said.
Sweden's embassy in Pyongyang, which represents several Western nations in the insular nation, had also helped, the statement said.
"Operational security considerations prevent us from discussing the matter further," it said.
"Strategically, North Korea perhaps hopes to engender some goodwill from Canada as tensions rise," said Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat in China. "They hope that Canada presents some moderating influence on the Trump administration.
"(But) I do not think it is directly connected to the tensions the US president has ratcheted up. North Korea is concerned he would die in prison."
KCNA said Lim had been released on "sick bail" by the country's Central Court for humanitarian reasons.
Return to Canada
Lim is expected to return to Canada later on Thursday and will be hospitalised on arrival at his wife's request, a source familiar with the matter said. His family is arriving separately.
"So far, it has been confirmed that government officials and a doctor are accompanying Reverend Lim," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to media.
Canadian Senator Yonah Martin, who advocated for Lim's release, said Lim was hospitalised during his imprisonment.
"They were sending medication but there was a question as to whether he was actually receiving it in the way he should."
Last year, Lim told CNN he spent eight hours a day digging holes at a labour camp where he had not seen any other prisoners.
Lim pastored the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto.
His Toronto-area church has said he visited the North more than 100 times since 1997 and helped set up an orphanage and nursing home.
US nationals in North Korea
The US State Department said last week it would ban US nationals from travelling to North Korea from September.
Lim's release came nearly two months after the death of US college student Otto Warmbier shortly after he was released from North Korea in a coma.
Warmbier had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in March 2016 after being accused of stealing a propaganda poster. The circumstances of his death remain unclear.
At least three Americans and six South Koreans remain in custody in the North.
North Korea has in the past attracted the attention of Washington and visits by high-profile Americans with the detention and release of US citizens.
North Korea on Wednesday said it was considering plans for a missile strike on the US Pacific territory of Guam, just hours after President Donald Trump told the North that any threat to the US would be met with "fire and fury."