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American Tourist in Custody in North Korea and Claims of Seeking Asylum

American Tourist in Custody in North Korea and Claims of Seeking Asylum
April 25, 2014

UPDATE - 14 September 2014

We are truly saddened by the news of Mr. Miller’s sentencing and our deepest sympathies go out to Mr. Miller’s friends and family.

Since the news of Mr. Miller’s detention, we have indicated clearly that we wish Mr. Miller to be returned to his parents in the United States.  We continue to believe that this is the best solution for all parties and will continue to work towards that end alongside the relevant U.S. and DPRK authorities.

UPDATE - 12 September 2014

The DPRK has announced a trial date of September 14, 2014 for Matthew Miller’s case.

In response to a number of questions we have received from the press, we provide the following comments:

Mr. Miller chose to travel alone to the DPRK. Is this common?

We have group tour packages and private tour packages. Our group tours are designed for travelers who want to experience the DPRK with other like-minded travelers. Some travelers, however, prefer to travel alone or in a closed group, and opt for a private tour. Private tours are generally more expensive than our group tours. We have two tiers of private tours, first tier includes local North Korean guides only and the second tier includes a western guide as well as our local North Korean guides. Matthew Miller requested a private tour with only local North Korean guides.

It is not uncommon for travelers to opt for a private tour. Private tours allow greater flexibility in travel dates and itinerary creation.

Do you have any idea why Mr. Miller would have ripped up his visa?

We assisted Mr. Miller in designing a private tour as we would any other traveler. Although we ask a series of tailored questions on our application form designed to get to know a traveler and his/her interests, it’s not always possible for us to foresee how a tourist may behave during a DPRK tour. Unfortunately, there was nothing specific in Mr. Miller’s tour application that would have helped us anticipate this unfortunate outcome. 

How has this incident affected your business?

Naturally, detention of an American citizen in North Korea raises concerns for potential travelers, and our customers have always demanded thorough responses to questions regarding the safety of DPRK travel. From an informational perspective, we provide our tourists with up to date information concerning DPRK tourism and point them to all available governmental and non-governmental resources on DPRK travel. In addition, we strongly encourage our tourists to register with the relevant embassy or protectorate in Pyongyang. The safety of our clients is our highest priority, and we will continue to operate only as long as we believe that we and our clients can travel safely in the DPRK by following the rules of the tour. With that said, we are still running tours and direct observation and tourist feedback continue to affirm our belief that it is possible to have safe and rewarding travel to the DPRK.

What are you doing in order to vet future travelers?

As a result of this incident, we have instituted certain measures that allow us to get to know a traveler before the tour. We now routinely request a secondary contact and we reserve the right to contact those references should we need to confirm certain facts about a person. We have also added specific advice to our pre-trip communications warning tourists, among other things, not to rip up any officially issued DPRK documents and to refrain from any type of proselytizing (in light of traveler detentions that have occurred on our competitors’ tours).

Have you had communications with Mr. Miller’s family or other governmental entities?

We have been cooperating with Mr. Miller’s family and the State Department to provide the limited facts that were available to us regarding his travel to the DPRK.

We have also made formal requests to the DPRK through diplomatic channels for a speedy resolution to Mr. Miller’s case and his prompt release.

END OF UPDATE

UPDATE - 1 July 2014

The KCNA has reported that the DPRK is preparing to bring two American tourists, Matthew Todd Miller and Jeffrey Edward Fowle, to trial for certain charges. As we have informed the public, Matthew Todd Miller was a private tourist on one of our tours and the circumstances surrounding his detention is outlined below.

As of last month, we believed Mr. Miller was in good health, and we have not heard otherwise. In addition, Mr. Miller’s family has reached out to us. However, they have requested that we keep the details of our communications private. We have no other specific updates at this time.

Jeffrey Edward Fowle was not one of our tourists, and we have no information on the circumstances of his detention.

Regarding how these recent detentions affect travel to the DPRK, safety is our highest priority and we continue to take all necessary precautions in running our tours. However, we believe that Mr. Miller’s detention is a rare and isolated occurrence, and we continue to operate our tours at this time. We have since had several tours in the country and all of our tourists (many Americans included) have returned home safely.

For your reference, we paste the full excerpt from the KCNA article below:

Pyongyang, June 30 (KCNA)—The Korean Central News Agency made public the following report on Monday:
  The relevant organ of the DPRK has made investigation into American tourists Miller Matthew Todd and Jeffrey Edward Fowle who were detained while perpetrating hostile acts after entering the territory of the DPRK.
  According to the results of the investigation, suspicions about their hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their testimonies.
  The relevant organ of the DPRK is carrying on the investigation into them and making preparations for bringing them before court on the basis of the already confirmed charges.
  Contact with an official looking after consular affairs, treatment, etc. in the course of investigation are being made in line with the laws of the relevant country. -0-

END OF UPDATE

UPDATE - 27 April 2014

During the past week, we have received a number of questions regarding Matthew Miller from concerned citizens as well as the press. We have prepared the following FAQ in order to provide a bit more clarity to the public regarding Mr. Miller’s situation.

What is the traveler’s full name?  There are conflicting versions being published.
The name he provided on his tour application is Matthew Todd Miller.

Have you talked with any of his family members?
As required for all of our travelers, Mr. Miller provided an emergency contact. We have tried repeatedly to reach out to Mr. Miller’s emergency contact, but that person has not yet responded. Mr. Miller did not provide any family contact information on his tour application, nor has any family member reached out to us. We are in contact with the U.S. State Department and are doing everything we can to contact Mr. Miller’s family.

Was Mr. Miller traveling as part of a tour group?
Mr. Miller was a private tour client and was not traveling with any other people. Our private tour clients may elect to travel with local guides only or to have an Uri Tours guide accompany them as well. Mr. Miller, like most of our private tour clients, requested to travel with local guides only. It is actually quite common for tourists to travel in this manner. Our Beijing staff received him in Beijing and saw him off to Pyongyang.

Separately, we did host a large group of runners for the Pyongyang Marathon. All of our marathoners had a great time and have safely returned to their respective home countries.

What happened once Mr. Miller arrived in Pyongyang?
We had staff in Pyongyang at the time Mr. Miller arrived. However, as mentioned, Mr. Miller elected not to travel with Uri Tours staff but instead with local North Korean guides only. Our local partners informed us immediately following the incident that Mr. Miller had deliberately ripped his visa and had declared that he was “not a tourist.” Since that time, we have been working with the appropriate diplomatic, governmental and local agencies to resolve the situation.

Is he seeking asylum?
We cannot speak to Mr. Miller’s motivations or mental state. He did not express any special intentions in his tour application.

What is the reaction of North Korea to Mr. Miller’s detention?
Locally, we work with one of several tour companies that compete for foreign tour business in the DPRK. Our local partners informed us immediately of the situation with Mr. Miller and have expressed a great deal of concern.

How does this affect tourists going forward?
The safety of our tourists is and always has been our highest priority.  While we can’t speak to Mr. Miller’s motivations or the motivations of the DPRK, we are doing everything we can to resolve the situation.

In more than 10 years of operation we have never before had an incident concerning the safety of our travelers. We provide all of our travelers in advance with comprehensive information about traveling safely in the DPRK, including information on acceptable behavior in the country and citations to the appropriate State Department travel warnings. We believe that if tourists follow these guidelines, DPRK travel is very safe. We are continuing to operate at this time.

END UPDATE


Matthew Miller, who is in custody in the DPRK on claims of seeking asylum, was a traveler on one of our private tours. We have been working closely and continuously with all relevant government and diplomatic entities to resolve this matter in a speedy and favorable manner. We are doing all we can to assist Mr. Miller through this process. 

In order to maintain the confidentiality of Mr. Miller and his family, we are not speaking with the press regarding the facts of the case.