Dennis Rodman may be fairly safe visiting North Korea, but for other Americans getting out of there after going on a tour may be a bit chancy, as this latest incident shows.
An American Korean War veteran, reportedly pulled off an Asiana Airlines flight in Pyongyang in October and detained at the end of his travels, was on a tour arranged by a UK-based tour operator.
The incident may have contributed to the U.S. State Department issuing a new travel warning for North Korea on November 19, recommending against U.S. citizens traveling there and stating: “The Department of State has also received reports of DPRK authorities arbitrarily detaining U.S. citizens and not allowing them to depart the country.”
Juche Travel Services, with offices outside London, tells Skift that it only learned November 21 of the “situation” regarding its customer, Merrill Newman, 85, of Palo Alto, California.
Juche Travel Services is an authorized travel agency for Korea International Travel Co., the DPRK’s official travel service, which handled Newman’s private tour with a companion in North Korea, says David Thompson of Juche Travel Services.
The private tour took place October 17 to 26, and, according to published reports, Newman discussed his Korean War experiences as a U.S. soldier the day before his scheduled departure, was removed from the airplane in the minutes before departure, and hasn’t been heard from since.
“Mr. Newman had in place all necessary and valid travel documents to take his tour,” Thompson of Juche Travel Services says. “We have no information concerning what has occurred to result in the current situation.”
Newman’s family and the U.S. government are demanding his safe return home.
Founded in 2011, Juche Travel Services says it is the largest tour operator in the UK handling trips to the DPRK, having handled about 300 customer visits in the first year of operation. Juche says is also a sales agent of Air Koryo, and a member of the Pacific Asia Travel Association.
Juche Travel Services operates a variety of tours to the DPRK, including group tours, private tours, railway tours and bird-watching tours.
Photo credit: Travelers on a Juche Travel Services aviation tour attended a performance by the Moranbong Band in Pyongyang in October in a show marking the founding of the Workers Party of Korea. Clive Grant / Juche Travel Services