Agency halts N Korea trips from US after Warmbier dies

STAY AWAY::The China-based travel agency was established by a British expatriate with the intention of taking travelers to places that might be considered high-risk


Wed, Jun 21, 2017 - Page 1

The tour agency that took US student Otto Warmbier to Pyongyang yesterday said it would stop taking Americans to the reclusive state after the 22-year-old died following 18 months in North Korean detention.

Warmbier was medically evacuated to the US last week after sustaining severe brain damage.

He died six days later in his home town of Cincinnati, Ohio, with US President Donald Trump blaming Pyongyang’s “brutal regime” for his plight.

“We have been struggling to process the result,” Young Pioneer Tours, the China-based travel agency that had taken Warmbier to the North, said on Facebook.

The University of Virginia student was arrested at the airport as he was leaving Pyongyang in January last year and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor at a trial for stealing a political poster from a hotel.

“There had not been any previous detainment in North Korea that has ended with such tragic finality,” the company said, adding that Warmbier’s death had made it “reconsider” its position on accepting US tourists.

“Now, the assessment of risk for Americans visiting North Korea has become too high,” it said. “We will no longer be organizing tours for US citizens to North Korea.”

The agency based in the Chinese city of Xian was founded in 2008 by a British expatriate with a motto of taking adventurous travelers to “the places your mother wants you to stay away from,” including North Korea and Iran.

One of a few tour agencies that visit the North, the firm offers trips that include scuba diving and cycling in one of the world’s most impoverished countries.

The company, which advertised the North as “probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit,” came under fire after Warmbier was medically evacuated to the US in a coma.

The North said Warmbier went into a coma soon after he was sentenced last year, saying he had contracted botulism and been given a sleeping pill.

Medical tests carried out last week in the US offered no conclusive evidence as to the cause of his neurological injuries, and no evidence of a prior botulism infection.