US to ban travel to North Korea after Warmbier’s death

BEIJING: The United States will bar Americans from travelling to North Korea in the coming weeks, travel agencies said on Friday, a month after a US tourist, student Otto Warmbier, died following his imprisonment by Pyongyang.
China-based Young Pioneer Tours, which had taken Warmbier to North Korea, and Koryo Tours said the ban will come into force on July 27 — the anniversary of the end of the Korean War — with a 30-day grace period.
“We have just been informed that the US government will no longer be allowing US citizens to travel to the DPRK (North Korea),” Young Pioneer Tours said on its website.
“After the 30-day grace period any US national that travels to North Korea will have their passport invalidated by their government,” it said.
The company did not say who had notified it of the ban, which followed its earlier announcement that it would no longer take Americans to North Korea in the wake of Warmbier’s death last month.
Koryo Tours general manager Simon Cockerell said that his company was notified by the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which usually acts on behalf of the United States in North Korea since Washington has no diplomatic ties with the isolated regime.
The official announcement “will basically end American tourism” in North Korea, Cockerell said. “It remains to be seen what the exact text is, but the indication is it’s just a straight up ban on Americans going,” he said.
His company currently takes between 300-400 Americans to the country each year, he said, adding that the company has begun informing American customers who had reserved tours of the ban.
While the decision will be bad for business, he sees it as more damaging to “North Koreans who are interested in having a balanced portrayal of what Americans are really like”. A US Embassy spokesman in Seoul could not be reached for comment, while his counterpart in Beijing said she would check with Washington. — AFP