N. Korea ‘open to tourists,’ visas issued in ‘less than month’ – Pyongyang
“They say it is difficult to travel to our country, but that’s not true. You can get a visa in less than a month,” North Korean ambassador Kim Hyok-chol said Thursday in Madrid, as cited by El Pais newspaper.
The ambassador was presenting his home country’s tourist attractions in something of a charm offensive, according to Xinhua news agency. Those included newly-built resorts and theme parks as well as North Korea’s picturesque scenery and landscapes. The event at the DPRK embassy in Madrid was organized in collaboration with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
The ambassador also lashed out at Washington, which he claimed presented North Korea in a grim light.
“The United States has used the media to demonize our country with fake news,” he said, as quoted by El Pais. “They say my country is closed, that it is difficult to enter, but it is the United States that is closing its doors.”
However, North Korean tourism apparently revolves around the capital. As Kim explained: “if you wish to eat in a restaurant in Pyongyang you can go alone… But if you wish to visit areas outside the capital, you will be accompanied… Until now, this has been the safest and most comfortable way to travel in the country.”
UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai encouraged people to visit the Asian country.
“The more Europeans go to North Korea, the more opportunities North Koreans will have to learn about the wider world,” Rifai said, adding that he recently visited the country and was given a warm welcome.
UN officials, however, have not been so positive. Earlier in June, the body extended the black list of Pyongyang officials due to the recent series of missile tests staged by North Korea.
In its annual report, Amnesty International also noted that foreign nationals are not safe from “arbitrary” arrest and sentences in the country.
“North Koreans and foreign nationals were arbitrarily detained and sentenced after unfair trials for criminal ‘offences’ that were not internationally recognized,” the group said, noting that such arrests could result in long prison terms.
This is in particular what happened to Otto Warmbier, a US college student who came to North Korea for a short visit in late 2015 but was eventually sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He was charged with "hostile acts" towards the county after confessing to stealing a propaganda poster from his hotel in Pyongyang.
Earlier in June, Warmbier was flown back to the US in a coma, with North Korea agreeing to the release on “humanitarian” grounds. His parents told the Washington Post they were informed that their son had contracted botulism, a form of food poisoning, soon after his trial. He then reportedly took a sleeping pill and never woke up.
Medics at home are now investigating his condition. According to CNN, Warmbier is in a vegetative state, having suffered extensive brain damage. It is unclear what caused the injury.