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North Korea Launches Tourism Site — Weeks After Jailed U.S. Tourist's Death

It has been just a month since the death of Otto Warmbier — an American tourist jailed by North Korean authorities, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for pulling down a propaganda poster, and eventually released to the U.S. in a coma under mysterious circumstances.

In at least one sense, then, you could argue it's an odd time for North Korea to launch a tourism campaign.

Yet that's precisely what the reclusive country did this week, publishing a new website designed to draw visitors to its "beautiful and picturesque landscape."

"Today the tourist industry in the DPRK is developing afresh under the wise leadership of supreme leader Kim Jong Un," the site says in laudatory tones, using the abbreviation for the country's preferred name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

On offer are beaches where "the water is not so deep, yet clear, the sand is as white as snow" and golf courses that boast "an adequate number of service personnel." The site also promises a surfing tour, saying "the sea sometimes runs high in some districts, thus giving favourable conditions for surfing."

And all this to "promote mutual understanding and cultural bonds between people around the world and develop the national economy."

Kim Jae-chun, a professor at South Korea's , tells the Korea Times there's likely an ulterior motive at work here.

"The state has long demanded the South extradite 12 defectors who had worked at a state restaurant in China, and resume Mt. Kumgang tours," Kim says, referring to a destination popular with South Korean tourists before it was closed about a decade ago. "The site may help the state reignite the tour program, which can lead to the family reunions, and earn foreign currency."

The State Department strongly warns U.S. citizens against traveling to the country, citing "serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea's system of law enforcement."

At least 16 Americans have been arrested by North Korean authorities in the past decade, according to the State Department — and that includes "those who traveled independently and those who were part of organized tours."

Earlier this month, North Korea successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile — just its latest major missile launch this year — and has been accused of "unimaginable" human rights abuses. And as of Thursday, the country has yet to respond to a rare diplomatic overture from its rival in Seoul.

But perhaps the most emphatic warning against travel to the country came from the father of Otto Warmbier, at a news conference last month.

"The North Koreans lure Americans to travel to North Korea via tour groups run out of China, who advertise slick ads on the Internet proclaiming, 'No American ever gets detained off of our tours and this is a safe place to go,' " Fred Warmbier said, adding: "North Korea doesn't do anything out of the kindness of their hearts."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.