WASHINGTON– A U.S. travel ban on North Korea took effect Friday as bilateral tensions increased over the regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The ban was announced by the State Department in July after the death of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who returned from North Korea in a coma in June.

As of Friday, all U.S. passports are invalid for travel to, in, or through the North in the absence of special validation, according to a notice in the Federal Register.

“The Department of State has determined that the serious risk to United States nationals of arrest and long-term detention represents imminent danger to the physical safety of United States nationals traveling to and within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” it said, referring to the North by its official name.

Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a political propaganda sign from a hotel in Pyongyang in January last year. He fell into a coma two months later due to botulism and a sleeping pill, according to North Korean officials, but doctors in the U.S. said he had severe brain damage.

The ban will be in effect for one year unless extended or revoked by the secretary of state. Exceptions can be granted to professional journalists, Red Cross representatives, and others with “compelling humanitarian” reasons or a travel request that is “in the national interest.”

U.S. nationals who were in North Korea were required to leave the country by Thursday.

Three more Americans are still detained in the North, all of them Korean-Americans.

Two, Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang-dok, were detained earlier this year, while the third, Kim Dong-chul, was arrested in October 2015 and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor on charges of espionage and subversion.

North Korea has drawn fresh condemnation from the U.S. and the international community for its launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan earlier this week.

 

 

Source: Yonhap News Agency