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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
Update: April 10, 2013 05:09 EST – Both Koryo Tours and Young Pioneer Tours continue to operate as normal and have advised that this development is only affecting tours booked via the Chineese Dandong Tour Agency.
WASHINGTON DC – A China based travel company has announced that all tours to North Korea will be suspended from tomorrow due to spiraling tensions on the peninsula.
The news followed a warning made by Pyongyang today which advised foreigners based in South Korea to start preparing evacuation plans in the event that conflict takes place in the coming days.
Dandong based “Explore North Korea” published a notification this evening at 9:43pm Chinese time which told customers that all tours to the DPRK would be cancelled until further notice.
Following a nearly two hour long meeting with North Korean tour officials, the Chinese company posted an advisory adding that tours would only be resumed once official confirmation was provided by North Korea.
“Explore North Korea” normally brings western visitors to North Korea and would have normally carried out between five tours this April, having departure dates scheduled April 11, 13, 15, 17, and 20.
Another China based tourist source confirmed the development to NK NEWS by email today, adding that the Dandong Tourism Board would not be accepting Chinese citizens into North Korea as of April 10, 2013.
However, western tour operators “Koryo Tours” and “Young Pioneer Tours” both said today that there were no plans to cancel any of their forthcoming tours, making it unclear if the suspension was being targeted at all companies.
Leonid Petrov, a researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra., told NK NEWS today that the move showed a “logical” and “consistent” approach to escalating a feeling of crisis on the peninsula.
“War zones are incompatible with joint industrial parks, travel groups or even with foreign embassies. Pyongyang wants to convince the world that Korea will soon be engulfed in the flames of nuclear inferno. The scary truth is that this can really happen regardless of who makes the first shot.”
Though directly unrelated to the latest news, Sweden based Korea Konsult posted a warning four days ago saying that all tours throughout April would be cancelled following the latest travel advisory warning issued by the Swedish Foreign Ministry.
For its part, the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office continues to say that travel to North Korea remains unaffected by the latest tensions, noting, “Our overall assessment is that there is currently no immediate increased risk or danger to those living in or travelling to the DPRK as a result of these statements.”
The potential suspension of tours to North Korea follows warnings sent to Foreign embassies in Pyongyang last week which stated North Korean authorities would be “unable to guarantee the safety of embassies and international organisations in the country in the event of conflict from April 10.”
While the significance of the April 10 date is uncertain, it comes just days before North Korea’s April 15 celebration of the 101st anniversary of founding leader Kim Il Sung.
Last year North Korea launched a long-range rocket three days before the 100 year celebration of his birth, and there are fears that Pyongyang may be planning a mid-range missile launch to coincide in some way with this year’s anniversary.
Despite the latest developments, some observers still believe that the latest warnings are simply rhetoric and nothing more than a North Korean attempt to ratchet up tension to levels unseen in recent years.
Inter-Korean relations are at a low point following weeks of recriminations between Seoul and Pyongyang. Relations spiraled out of control following UN condemnation of North Korea’s third nuclear test in February.
With thanks to the Spelunker, who contributed towards this report.