Americans will be banned from traveling to North Korea next month, according to two tour agencies who regularly arrange trips to the conflict-ridden country.
A Reuters report on Friday said that Koryo Tours and Young Pioneer Tours both reported that they were informed of the news by the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, who acts as the diplomatic liaison for the U.S. in North Korea. The embassy reportedly told them the changes would be announced July 27 and go into effect one month later, but did not say how long the ban was set to last.
"But it does seem to be the case that in just over a month, it will be impossible for Americans to visit as tourists," Koryo Tours general manager Simon Cockrell told Reuters over the phone.
Chinese-based company Young Pioneer Tours also had the change listed on its website, slated for the same time frame.
"We have just been informed that the U.S. government will no longer be allowing U.S. citizens to travel to the DPRK (North Korea)," the company wrote on its site. "It is expected that the ban will come into force within 30 days of July 27th. After the 30 day grace period any U.S. national that travels to North Korea will have their passport invalidated by their government."
According to WLS-TV, about 800 to 1,250 Americans have visited North Korea in recent years, but that number sharply decreased after the tragic death of 22-year-old Otto Warmbier.
Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, traveled to North Korea with Young Pioneer tours and was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for attempting to steal a political sign. At some point during his captivity, Warmbier fell into a coma and was released to the United States where he died June 19.
North Korean officials claimed Warmbier had contracted botulism and was given a sleeping pill when he fell into a coma, but American doctors who examined Warmbier said he had significant brain damage following a neurological injury.
"This pattern of brain injury is usually seen as result of cardiopulmonary arrest where blood supply to (the) brain is inadequate for a period of time, resulting in the death of brain tissue," said Dr. Daniel Kanter at the time.