State Dept. issues fresh warning on travel to N. Korea
A North Korean soldier surveys the scene on the South Korea side of the Military Demarcation Line on March 13, 2013, at the Joint Security Area of the Demilitarized Zone.
SEOUL — The U.S. State Department on Thursday updated its warning against tourism to North Korea, giving American citizens a laundry list of reasons they might want to cross the rogue nation off their bucket list of places to visit.
“North Korea’s penalties for knowingly or unknowingly violating North Korea’s laws are much harsher than U.S. penalties for similar offenses,” the State Department said. “Sentences for crimes can include years of detention in hard labor camps or death.”
While not explaining why the update was issued, the State Department said the new advisory replaces a similar warning issued last September, “and it reminds U.S. citizens about the serious risks involved in traveling to (North Korea).”
North Korea has for years issued bellicose threats against the U.S. and its ally, South Korea. That rhetoric has been amped up in recent weeks amid the U.N. Security Council’s decision to slap additional sanctions on the North for its February nuclear test, and ongoing U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises which Pyongyang says are preparations for an attack on the country.
Between 800 and 1,000 Americans visit North Korea each year, according to a tour operator who asked to remain anonymous.
Visitors are reportedly closely monitored by government “guides” and are only allowed access to people and places that cast the country in a positive light.
The State Department warning pointed out that since early 2009, four Americans have been arrested for entering North Korea illegally and another two who entered the country with valid visas were arrested on other charges.
The Bureau of Consular Affairs advisory warns:
—Activities not considered criminal outside North Korea could be punishable by criminal charge or expulsion, “including involvement in unsanctioned religious and/or political activities…unauthorized travel or unauthorized interaction with the local population.”
—Tourists could be fined or arrested for exchanging currency with an unauthorized vendor, taking unauthorized photographs or shopping at stores not designated for foreigners, and could get in trouble for showing disrespect to the country’s current or former leaders.
—Visitors should assume calls are monitored.
The warning goes on to say American citizens are “strongly encouraged” to contact the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang — the “U.S. Protecting Power” in North Korea — with details of their plans to visit the North.