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U.S. warns against visiting North

Jan 17,2018
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The U.S. State Department categorizes North Korea as a Level 4 nation in its new travel advisory system, and a screen capture of its website as of Tuesday warns against “Showing disrespect (both physically and verbally) to the country’s former leaders, Kil Il Sung or Kim Jong Il, or the country’s current leader, Kim Jong Un,” misspelling Kim Il Sung’s surname. [SCREEN CAPTURE FROM THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT]
American citizens who wish to travel to North Korea have been advised to first draft a will and make funeral plans in a new warning system introduced by the U.S. Department of State.

On Jan. 10, the State Department unveiled the system, which uses four advisory levels - from Level 1, which means travelers should take normal precautions, to Level 4, which means travelers should avoid the country in question - categorizing North Korea as a Level 4 country “due to the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention of U.S. nationals.”

Since September, U.S. citizens have not been able to visit North Korea without special validation from the State Department. The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to its citizens in North Korea as it has no diplomatic or consular relations with the regime.

The State Department added that Sweden serves as a protecting power for U.S. nationals and can provide “limited emergency services,” but that the North Korean government “routinely delays or denies Swedish officials access to detained U.S. citizens.”

The website advises those who still wish to travel to North Korea to “draft a will and designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries,” or a power of attorney, and to discuss a plan with loved ones regarding care or custody of children, pets, property, belongings, non-liquid assets such as collections and artwork, along with “funeral wishes.”

The website further lists criminal acts unique to North Korea, including showing disrespect to the regime’s former leaders, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il, and its current leader, Kim Jong-un. The website, however, misspelled North Korean founder Kim Il Sung’s name as “Kil Il Sung.”

It also warns against proselytizing, engaging in political activities, possessing digital media or print material that is critical of North Korea and taking unauthorized photographs.

It further points out that at least 16 U.S. citizens have been detained in North Korea over the past decade, and warns that those who violate North Korean law may be held in isolation without charge for lengthy periods of time, interrogated, compelled to draft public confessions or even sent to a labor camp for years. It also states that “in many high-risk areas, we cannot help you,” because of “a lack of a functioning government, the ineffectiveness or policies of local authorities, conflict, or bad governance.”

Fox News on Monday reported on its website, “Americans can travel to North Korea, if they wish - but it may just be a death wish, the U.S. State Department cautioned.”

Some other countries categorized as Level 4 nations include Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya, and the State Department similarly advises citizens to draft a will before traveling to those places.

Risk factors taken into account for the advisories include crime, terrorism, civil unrest, health, natural disaster or time-limited events, such as an election.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced in November the re-listing of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, alongside Iran, Sudan and Syria.

Trump cited as one of the reasons behind the designation Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old University of Virginia student who was arrested in North Korea in 2016 and died after his return to the United States in June of last year without waking from a vegetative state.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]