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US to ban Americans from visiting North Korea, tour groups say

US tourist Otto Warmbier died in June after being detained for 17 months in North Korea.

The US government will soon prohibit American citizens from traveling to North Korea, according to two tour groups that cater to Western tourists who want to visit the secretive country.

The US will announce the ban within a couple of days, said Simon Cockerell, general manager of Beijing-based Koryo Tours. The agency was informed of the development by officials of the Swedish government, which represents America’s interests in North Korea, he told CNN.

Another agency, Young Pioneers Tours, issued a statement Friday saying it was told that the US government will no longer allow US citizens to travel to North Korea. The ban will become effective within 30 days of July 27, it added.

“After the 30 day grace period any US national that travels to North Korea will have their passport invalidated by their government,” the statement says.

Neither the US government nor the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang have issued official statements about a ban. The State Department now strongly warns Americans against traveling to North Korea.

Tragic fate

Beijing-based Young Pioneers Tours had organized US college student Otto Warmbier’s trip to North Korea.

Warmbier was arrested last year while on the sightseeing tour. After being held prisoner by North Korea for 17 months, Warmbier in June was handed over to the US in a vegetative state. He died a few days later in Ohio.

Following Warmbier’s death, Young Pioneer Tours announced it would no longer organize tours for US citizens to North Korea.

The United States has been “contemplating” a ban, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said last month. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “has the authority to do it, he just has not come to a conclusion about how this would potentially work,” she said.

A bipartisan bill working its way through the House would outlaw most US travel to North Korea for five years. The legislation would ban tourism travel altogether and require US citizens who do visit the country to get a license from the Treasury Department.