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Warmbier
Otto Warmbier and officials

Two travel companies that operate tours to North Korea have said the US government will soon ban its citizens from travelling to the country. It follows the death of Otto Warmbier, a US student who was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labour while visiting North Korea.

He was released in June in a coma and died in hospital in Cincinnati days after being medically evacuated. US officials told the Associated Press on Friday that the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, had decided to implement a “geographical travel restriction” for North Korea, which would make the use of US passports to enter the country illegal.

They said the restriction would come into effect 30 days after a notice is published in the Federal Register, but it was not immediately clear when that would be. There was no announcement in Friday’s editions of the government publication.

The officials were not authorized to publicly discuss the decision before it is announced and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Koryo Tours said the ban would be announced on 27 July and would go into effect 30 days later. It did not say how long the ban would last.

Another tour operator, Young Pioneer Tours, said in a tweet that it had also been informed of the ban, citing the same date. Young Pioneer Tours was the agency that took Warmbier to North Korea.

Warmbier’s parents, Fred and Cindy, said his death was a result of “the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans”.

Warmbier was arrested at Pyongyang airport in January 2016 for allegedly taking a propaganda poster from his hotel room, where he had been staying as part of an organized tour.

The University of Virginia student wept at his sentencing, saying: “I have made the worst mistake of my life.” The trial reportedly lasted less than an hour.

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