Watch: Don't take this North Korea guidebook with you, warns French publisher

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By Euronews  with Reuters
Watch: Don't take this North Korea guidebook with you, warns French publisher
Copyright  Reuters

A French publisher has produced a rare guidebook to North Korea, highlighting its history, cultural wealth and beautiful landscapes, but is warning tourists not to take the politically sensitive book with them when they travel there.

Tourism is one of the few remaining reliable sources of foreign income for North Korea, after the UN imposed sanctions targeting 90 per cent of its $3 billion annual exports including commodities, textiles and seafood.

Tensions over North Korea's tests of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles spiked on the Korean peninsular last year and there were fears of a Unites States military response to North Korea's threat to develop a weapon capable of hitting the US.

Dominique Auzias, president of the Petit Fute, which publishes 800 guide books, said people nowadays were very interested in North Korea. He said: "It's a country that's closed and forbidden, everybody dreams of going there. Everyone wants to see what's forbidden and what's closed."

Around 400 French tourists visit the country each year, with trips costing around €2,000. The reclusive Communist state has no official diplomatic relations with France.

North Korean authorities would probably confiscate the printed edition given some of the material, Auzias said. He added that travellers should think of going to North Korea as more of a discovery than an adventure, although he concedes that getting to know the locals won't be an option.

"It's strictly impossible to speak to the local population. Potentially, you can talk to a waitress at a bistro, or at a restaurant or at a hotel, though they are few. But it's impossible to meet farmers or workers, except during organised tours where you don't know if the people you meet are there at the request of the guides."

The guide, which took three years to put together, touches little on where to stay or eat because accessing the country as a tourist can only be done through specific travel agents who determine what visitors see.

Although there is one benefit to this, according to Auzias: "I think it is one of the safest countries in the world. It's like going to visit a nuclear power plant, you'll be told that everything is forbidden except for what is allowed. So this is the same thing, and what's certain is that you'll only be doing what is permitted and you'll be supervised in the process."

The guidebook makes it clear that it is imperative to stick to North Korea's strict rules or face dire consequences, as American student Otto Warmbier did in 2016 when he was sentenced to 15 years of forced labour for trying to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel.

He was returned to the US in a coma 17 months later, and died shortly after. A coroner said he died from lack of oxygen and blood to the brain.

Video editor • Alexis Caraco