US warns Americans against travel to North Korea

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WASHINGTON: The State Department has urged Americans to avoid all travel to North Korea, warning that US citizens making the trip risk long and “unduly harsh” imprisonment if they fall foul of laws in the hermit state.

At least 14 US citizens have been detained by Pyongyang over the past decade, according to Washington.

“The State Department strongly urges US citizens to avoid all travel to North Korea due to the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement, which imposes unduly harsh sentences, including for actions that in the United States would not be considered crimes,” according to a statement Monday.

In one recent well-publicized case, 21-year old American student Otto Warmbier was arrested in January for allegedly stealing a propaganda sign from a tourist hotel in Pyongyang. He was sentenced in March to 15 years’ hard labor.

“North Korea has detained those who traveled independently and those who were part of organized tours. Being a member of a group tour or using a tour guide will not prevent North Korean authorities from detaining or arresting you,” the statement cautioned.

“Efforts by private tour operators to prevent or resolve past detentions of US citizens in the DPRK have not been successful.”