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Three Detained, One Dead, But North Korea Still Says Doors ‘Open’ To US Tourists

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North Korea claims that its door remains open, despite the new U.S. travel ban on the country.

“Regardless of any government’s policy towards the DPRK, we encourage various forms of exchanges and contacts including visits by people from all over the world,” North Korean state-run media said Friday, quoting a foreign ministry spokesman. “We will always leave our door wide open to any US citizen who would like to visit our country.”

The U.S. Department of State announced earlier this week that a travel ban will go into effect for North Korea starting in September, although some journalists and humanitarian aid workers will be allowed to apply for exceptions. The move follows the death of American tourist Otto Warmbier in June.

Warmbier was detained in North Korea last year for crimes against the state, allegedly attempting to pilfer a propaganda poster. The North later doubled down and alleged that the University of Virginia student attempted to overthrow the government while touring North Korea, a completely unsubstantiated assertion. After more than a year in detention, he was returned home in a vegetative state, having suffered severe neurological damage.

He died one week later.

North Korea is still holding three other Americans, two of which were detained this year. North Korea arrested professors Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song in 2017 for “hostile acts” against the North Korean regime, and is still holding Kim Dong-chul, a businessman detained on charges of espionage. The Department of State has demanded their release, but the North has yet to agree.

The Department of State has long had a travel warning in effect for North Korea, stating, “U.S. citizens in the DPRK are at serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement. This system imposes unduly harsh sentences for actions that would not be considered crimes in the United States and threatens U.S. citizen detainees with being treated in accordance with ‘wartime law of the DPRK.’”

In the past, North Korea has used detained American citizens as leverage in negotiations.

North Korean laws allow for harsh punishments of foreign prisoners, especially Americans. “The DPRK will detect and frustrate every anti-DPRK plot of the dishonest hostile elements and ruthlessly punish the criminals and thus reliably defend its state and social system,” North Korean state media wrote in May.

North Korea has condemned the travel ban as a “sordid” attempt to reduce human exchanges.

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