North Korea to admit more US tourists


SEOUL — North Korea is opening its doors wider to tourists from its traditional enemy, the United States, a Beijing-based travel group said Wednesday.

US tourists will now be allowed to visit the communist state year-round instead of only during the Arirang Festival from August to October, Koryo Tours said.

Founder Nick Bonner said he had received an email Wednesday from the state-run Korea International Travel Company notifying him of the change but giving no further immediate details.

The secretive nation opened to Western tourists in 1987-88 but excluded US citizens a couple of years after that.

In 2002 it allowed Americans to visit for Arirang, a gymnastics and propaganda festival involving tens of thousands of performers.

Bonner said his firm, which specialises in tourism to North Korea, brought in 292 US citizens for Arirang last year.

The North was hit by tougher sanctions last year following its nuclear and missile tests. It is also losing tens of millions of dollars a year after tour programmes for South Koreans shut down amid worsening relations.

Bonner told AFP he saw the latest move as a gradual opening of the tourism industry rather than being motivated by a desire to raise revenue.

“But I don’t think it would have happened unless relations (with the US) had calmed down in recent months. Tourism is often at the lead of diplomacy,” he said.

After months of tension, Pyongyang last summer began making peace gestures to Washington and Seoul. US envoy Stephen Bosworth visited the North last month to try to persuade it to return to stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

The United States has not had diplomatic relations with the North since the 1950-53 war, in which US forces fought for South Korea.

In a New Year message the North said it wanted better relations with the United States, but it has given no clear signal of readiness to return to the disarmament talks.