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Tour group hopes North Korean travel ban will be lifted

The tour company used by Otto Warmbier to enter North Korea wants Americans to be able to again travel to the country, according to the company’s website.

Young Pioneer Tours seeks daring customers willing to visit “destinations your mother would rather you stay away from.” Warmbier joined a group flown into North Korea in late 2015 at the guidance of the tour company.

After Warmbier’s imprisonment and eventual death, the State Department barred U.S. citizens from traveling to North Korea, with few exceptions. The ban remains in place today. Those who defy it may lose their passport and may be subject to felony prosecution.

The State Department warns of a “serious risk of arrest and long-term detention of U.S. nationals” in North Korea.

Young Pioneer Tours wrote that, despite the travel ban, “many Americans have consistently been (an) interested and open-minded demographic in wanting to visit the country.”

Tour companies have been forced to turn them away “in large numbers,” the blog claims.

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Young Pioneers’ blog post was written before this week’s summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un. In it, the company expressed hope that the U.S. would lift the ban as part of a deal to denuclearize North Korea.

But no such deal was reached and talks ended early Thursday.

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US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he doesn’t think North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was involved in the mistreatment of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died after being detained in the isolated country. (Feb. 28)
AP

“Because (North Korea) is now working hard to put relations with America back on track, it will also be a good time for these visitors to go,” the blog says.

A representative from the company did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.

Warmbier, a native of the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming, Ohio, was detained by North Korean authorities in early 2016 after being accused of stealing a poster from a hotel in Pyongyang, the nation’s capital.

When Warmbier didn’t call his family after his scheduled departure date from North Korea, Young Pioneer Tours assured them “everything was fine,” and Warmbier’s inability to leave North Korea was just a “misunderstanding,” according to court documents from a federal lawsuit the Warmbier family filed against North Korea. (In December, they were awarded $500 million in damages.)

But after a televised confession, Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor. He was held prisoner for 15 months before the government released him in June 2017.

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Warmbier was returned to his family but died a few days later. No autopsy was performed at the family’s request.

The State Department advised against traveling to North Korea at the time of Warmbier’s trip, according to GQ.

Trump, who condemned the “brutality of the North Korean regime” shortly after Warmbier died, said this week that Kim assured him he had no role in the student’s death.

“I will take him at his word,” Trump said.

 

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/news/2019/02/28/otto-warmbier-tour-group-hopes-north-korean-travel-ban-lifted/3018025002/




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