(ATTN: UPDATES with McCain's remarks in last 3 paras)
By Chang Jae-soon
WASHINGTON, June 20 (Yonhap) -- The chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee has called for a ban on tourist travel to North Korea after American student Otto Warmbier died just days after his release from the North in a coma.
"Travel propaganda lures far too many people to North Korea. This is a regime that regularly kidnaps foreign citizens and keeps 120,000 North Koreans in barbaric gulags. The United States should ban tourist travel to North Korea," Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) said in a statement released Monday.
Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, died Monday, six days after he returned to his Ohio home in a coma after 17 months of detention in the North for taking down a political propaganda sign from a hotel.
North Korean officials claimed Warmbier fell into a coma in March last year due to botulism and a sleeping pill. Doctors in the U.S. said Warmbier had severe brain damage and was in a state of "unresponsive wakefulness."
His family blamed the "awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans."
"My thoughts and prayers are with the Warmbier family. Over these past 18 months they've endured incredible pain and suffering, all because their son allegedly took a poster off a hotel wall in Pyongyang. I hope, someday soon, they can look beyond this senseless killing and find peace," Royce said.
Last month, a bipartisan group of congressmen, led by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), introduced the North Korea Travel Control Act (H.R.2732) that would prohibit travel to North Korea by Americans without permission from the government.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) said the Senate is looking at such a ban.
"Should there be a travel ban for U.S. citizens going there relative to this. That's something we're looking at," Corker said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
"Americans end up being there. We got three there today that have charges, trumped-up charges against them, and we have got to figure out whether it's best to allow people to do that and then end up in a situation where we're doing everything we can as a nation to get them out," he said.
Corker also said Warmbier's death "just stirs up this anger towards North Korea."
"Look, I assume there's going to be an autopsy and we'll know more about what actually led to what caused him to pass away. It's obviously incredibly sad," he said.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said that any "stupid" Americans still wanting to travel to North Korea after Warmbier's death should be made to renounce their right to government protection of their lives.
"There should at least be a form for them to fill out that says, 'If I go to North Korea, I understand I am taking great risk and I do not hold the American government responsible,' " McCain said.
"I would have that first because if people are that stupid that they still want to go to that country then at least they assume the responsibility for their welfare," he said.
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