by WorldTribune Staff, July 21, 2017
The Trump administration is advising all U.S. nationals in North Korea to leave “immediately” as the State Department said it will soon issue a ban on American tourism to the communist nation.
Koryo Tours and Young Pioneer Tours, who both operate in North Korea, said on July 21 that they had been told of the upcoming ban by the Swedish embassy, which acts for the U.S. as Washington has no diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement that the ban would be published next week in the Federal Register and will go into effect 30 days later.
“Due to mounting concerns over the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement, the Secretary (Rex Tillerson) has authorized a Geographical Travel Restriction on all U.S. nationals’ use of a passport to travel through, or to North Korea,” Nauert said.
Some observers have suggested the U.S. is using the date the ban is set to be announced – July 27 – to cloud North Korea’s Victory Day on the same day, the BBC reported.
In May, two congressmen introduced the North Korea Travel Control bill to cut off the foreign currency the Kim Jong-Un regime earns from American tourists.
“Once in effect, U.S. passports will be invalid for travel to, through, and in North Korea, and individuals will be required to obtain a passport with a special validation in order to travel to or within North Korea,” Nauert said.
U.S. officials linked the move to the death of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died after returning from North Korea, where he had been imprisoned since January 2016.
Rowan Beard, of Young Pioneer Tours, told the BBC the embassy was urging all U.S. nationals to depart immediately, adding that the embassy was trying to check on the number of U.S. tourists left in the country.
The State Department does not keep a record of the number of American tourists who visit North Korea, but tour operators suggest it is around 1,000 per year.
There are reported to be three U.S. citizens currently in custody in North Korea:
- Kim Dong-Chul, a 62-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen born in South Korea, who was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in April 2016 for spying.
- Korean-American professor Kim Sang-Duk (or Tony Kim) who was detained in April 2017. The reasons for his arrest are not yet clear.
- Kim Hak-Song, like Kim Sang-Duk, worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology and was detained in May 2017 on suspicion of “hostile acts” against the state.