NORTH Korea has sentenced an American student to 15 years' hard labour for trying to steal a propaganda banner from his hotel.

Otto Warmbier was convicted on charges of subversion, in a move which has showcased the secretive and unforgiving North Korean regime and futher deteriorated relations with Washington.

The student, from Ohio, admitted trying to steal a North Korean banner with a political slogan on that had been hanging from the walls of his Pyongyang hotel, according to CNN. 

In a statement to a press conference in February, Mr Warmbier said: "I committed the crime of taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel.

"I apologise to each and every one of the millions of the Korean people, and I beg that you see how I was used and manipulated."

Crying in a broadcast video, he said he had been "lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country."

It is not known whether he was coerced into giving the statement. He said he had wanted a banner from the totalitarian regime in east Asia "as a trophy" for a member of a church group he attends.

According to an official who spoke to CNN, the church member allegedly encouraged Warmbier to take the poster so as to "weaken the ideological unity and motivation of the North Koreans", promising him a car in return for his efforts.

But no evidence of such a church group or member has emerged.

The issue has raised questions around the risk to American tourists travelling in the country of being used as political pawns by the regime.

Tensions with Washington further escalated this week after leader Kim Jong Un warned his country had a long-range missile capable of obliterating Manhattan in New York City.

"If this H-bomb were to be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile and fall on Manhattan in New York City, all the people there would be killed immediately and the city would burn down to ashes," reported state-run outlet DPRK Today.

The UN Security Council voted unanimously in early March to implement harsher sanctions against North Korea to starve it of money for its nuclear weapons programme.

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