US renews warning against visiting North Korea

Tourists look out towards North Korea at the Dora Observatory near the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea on May 14, 2014. Washington on Wednesday renewed a stern warning to all American citi
Tourists look out towards North Korea at the Dora Observatory near the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea on May 14, 2014. Washington on Wednesday renewed a stern warning to all American citizens not to travel to North Korea, saying that even joining a tour would fail to protect them from arbitrary arrest. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Washington on Wednesday renewed a stern warning to all American citizens not to travel to North Korea, saying that even joining a tour would fail to protect them from arbitrary arrest.

“In the past 18 months, North Korea has detained US citizens who were part of organized tours,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

“A US citizen should not assume that joining a group tour or using a tour guide would protect them from being detained or arrested by North Korean authorities.”

Pyongyang in late April said it had been holding a 24-year-old US tourist in custody for more than two weeks after he apparently ripped up his visa at immigration and demanded asylum.

The tourist, identified as “Miller Matthew Todd,” had been taken into custody April 10 for “his rash behaviour in the course of going through formalities for entry” into North Korea, the state news agency KCNA said.

But the State Department had no news on Wednesday to share about his fate, and has been unable to talk publicly about his reported arrest due to privacy concerns.

North Korea is currently holding another US citizen, Kenneth Bae, described by a North Korean court as a militant Christian evangelist.

Mr Bae was arrested in November 2012 and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour on charges of seeking to topple the government. US efforts to secure Mr Bae’s release have so far been unsuccessful.

Last year, then 85-year-old US Korean war veteran Merrill Newman was held for more than a month in North Korea after inquiring about North Korean veterans, even though he was on a guided trip to the reclusive state.

On his return home to California in December, Mr Newman, who was forced to make a filmed “confession,” said he believed North Korean authorities misunderstood his “curiosity as something more sinister.”

He had concluded that, “for the North Korean regime, the Korean War isn’t over and that even innocent remarks about the war can cause big problems if you are a foreigner.” j