US diplomat: China tightened border controls with N. Korea

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South Korea will allow a civic group to contact North Korea over help in fighting malaria, the first government approval on cross-border civilian exchanges since North Korea's fourth nuclear test in January 2016, officials said Friday.

"Worse, the regime has routinely imprisoned innocent foreign civilians and used them as bargaining chips to gain credibility with the West", he continued.

A bipartisan group of South Korean politicians met with Joseph Yun, the USA special representative for North Korea policy, in Washington DC. The bill would require licenses for any travel to the country. A similar licensing program is in effect for travel to Cuba, even though the U.S. revived relations with the island-nation.

The government under former President Park Geun-hye said it would continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those vulnerable in North Korea, such as infants and pregnant women.

Wilson noted an increase in trips to the secretive country in recent years by Americans and other Western tourists.

The "North Korea Travel Control Act" proposed by Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff and Republican Joe Wilson would block all US tourist visits to the country and force other visitors to obtain permission via a US Treasury licensing system.

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The most recent detentions were not tourists, with North Korea arresting two faculty members of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) for as yet unclear "hostile acts".

Two other U.S. citizens, Korean-American Christian pastor Kim Tong Chul and college student Otto Warmbier, have been convicted of crimes.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who introduced the bill with Wilson, warned that increased tensions with North Korea heighten the danger that USA citizens will be detained for political reasons. "This system imposes unduly harsh sentences for actions that would not be considered crimes in the United States and threatens U.S. citizen detainees with being treated in accordance with "wartime law" of the DPRK".

North Korea this month asserted its sovereign right to "ruthlessly punish" US citizens it has detained for crimes against the government.

The North has staged two atomic tests and dozens of missile tests since the beginning of past year in its quest to build a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the continental United States.

"If the discussion is successful, a visit to North Korea would be possible around June 10", Kang said.

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