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US Ban on North Korea Travel Takes Effect | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The North Korea flag flutters next to concertina wire at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su

The Trump administration’s ban on American citizens travelling to North Korea came into force on Friday, with the two countries at loggerheads over Pyongyang’s weapons ambitions.

The measure was imposed following the death of student Otto Warmbier in June, a few days after the 22-year-old was sent home in a mysterious coma following more than a year in prison in the North.

He had been convicted of offences against the state for trying to steal a propaganda poster from a Pyongyang hotel and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor, with President Donald Trump blaming Pyongyang’s “brutal regime” for his plight.

On its website the State Department said it took the decision due to “the serious and mounting risk of arrest and long-term detention of US citizens”.

A handful of Americans left Pyongyang on Thursday on a flight to Beijing.

Americans represent around 20 percent of the 5,000 or so Western tourists who visit the North annually — although that is expected to fall significantly this year because of the wider tensions as well as the ban — with standard one-week trips costing about $2,000 and budget journeys about half that.

Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), North Korea’s only western-funded university, will also be affected. It starts the fall semester without its dozens of American staff after failing to secure exemptions the ban.

PUST – home to the largest concentration of foreigners in the reclusive state – plans to revise courses and teaching schedules but its largely English-based curriculum will be heavily impacted, two sources familiar with PUST’s operations said.

PUST was founded in 2010 by a Korean American evangelical Christian with the goal of helping North Korea’s future elite learn the skills to modernize the isolated country and engage with the outside world.

Exemptions to the travel ban are available for journalists, Red Cross representatives, those travelling for humanitarian purposes, or journeys the State Department deems to be in the national interest of the United States.

Earlier this week Pyongyang launched a missile over Japan, in a major escalation, and it has threatened to fire rockets towards the US Pacific territory of Guam.

In July it carried out its first two successful tests of an intercontinental-range missile, apparently bringing much of the US mainland into range.