Be careful of risks when travelling to North Korea, warns MFA

Visitors paying their respects on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang. Singapore does not have diplomatic representation in North Korea and the MFA is unable to provide consular help to Singaporeans there if things go wrong.
Visitors paying their respects on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang. Singapore does not have diplomatic representation in North Korea and the MFA is unable to provide consular help to Singaporeans there if things go wrong.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Singaporeans planning holidays in North Korea should be careful of the risks of travelling there, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement on Tuesday (Sept 3).

"It has come to our attention that some Singapore-based tour operators are offering holiday tour packages to North Korea," the MFA said. "The situation in North Korea remains unpredictable."

It warned Singaporeans to be careful not to violate United Nations (UN) sanctions against North Korea and Singapore laws, the ministry added.

The UN has placed sanctions on the reclusive state since 2006, making it illegal to sell, among other things, luxury items to the country. Singapore has also banned such sales.

The MFA further warned that Singapore does not have diplomatic representation in North Korea and the ministry is unable to provide consular help to Singaporeans travelling there if things go wrong.

Checks by The Straits Times found several tour agencies offering tour packages to North Korea. Chan Brothers has 10-day tour packages until October this year from $2,388, while Universal Travel Corporation (UTC) has nine-day packages from $2,499 departing in September and October.

The agencies say that tourists are expected to enter Pyongyang via Beijing and would get to visit places such as the Kim II Sung University and Ryomyong Street.

 
 

From April to October, UTC said that 800 people have taken up its North Korea travel packages, with each tour group comprising 15 to 40 people.

A UTC spokesman told ST: "Since the United States (and North Korea) summit held in Singapore last June, we have written to the Monetary Authority of Singapore to learn more about the UN sanctions on (North Korea), so we are extremely careful in abiding by the rules and regulations."

During the US-North Korea summit here, US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met for the first time  to discuss and sign a joint commitment to the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

UTC's spokesman added that "before every group departure, we brief all the group members on the do’s and don’ts while in North Korea".

The company has been conducting tours to North Korea since 1994.

Dynasty Travel also said that there have been more enquiries for North Korea tours especially after the Trump-Kim Summit in Singapore.

The tour agency said that travel in the country by tourists is done only by guided tours, and that no photography is allowed unless permission is given. The company also advises its travellers to avoid talking about politics and religion in the country.

But Dynasty Travel said that with the latest MFA advisory, it foresees a drop in enquiries and non-essential travel to North Korea.

ST has contacted the MFA for more information on what prompted the latest advisory, as travel agencies offering tour packages from Singapore to North Korea is not a new phenomenon.

In 2013, The New Paper reported that some 400 tourists from Singapore visit North Korea each year on tours organised by UTC, which was reportedly the only firm in Singapore licensed to offer tours to North Korea, as it was the sole sales agency for North Korean travel firm Korean International Company.