Missing Dutch tourist appears in North Korean newspaper
PYONGYANG (BNO NEWS) — A Dutch tourist who has gone missing during a business trip to North Korea appeared in a state-run newspaper on Wednesday to praise the country’s recent elections.
Willem van der Bijl, 59, who is the owner of a post stamp collection shop in the Dutch city of Utrecht, traveled to the Asian country in early July to buy North Korean stamps and paintings. He was scheduled to fly back to the Netherlands on July 30 but never took the flight.
A report from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 25 said Van der Bijl had visited a polling station on July 24 when North Koreans voted in local elections. “Wim van der Bijl from [the] Netherlands noted his visit to the polling station helped him know better about the reality of the DPRK,” KCNA reported.
But a posting on the website of the state-run Pyongyang Times on Wednesday showed a small photo of Van der Bijl along with a brief personal message about the elections. He said it is his 24th visit to the country, which is officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
“Looking round the poll, I have been greatly impressed by the free and democratic elections and I have had a better understanding of the DPRK’s reality,” Van der Bijl said, according to the newspaper. “In the DPRK every citizen is eligible to vote and to be elected. Those who have worked a lot for the people are elected as deputies.”
Van der Bijl, who is a known admirer of North Korea and its propaganda paintings, described the election system in the country as ‘really excellent.’ “What I’d like to say more is that whenever I visit the country I can see more and more modern structures rising here and there. And I realize the developing reality of the country,” he added.
It is unknown if Van der Bijl is the actual writer of the opinion piece as he has not contacted his family since July 18, which is unusual. The article said Van der Bijl will return to North Korea in 2012 to commemorate the 100th birthday of the late President Kim Il Sung. His family has confirmed that Van der Bijl was planning to return to North Korea next year.
A spokesperson for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs previously confirmed that Van der Bijl had been reported missing by his family. “It is very difficult to request the government in North Korea to search the man. The nearest embassy is in Switzerland’s Bern,” the spokesperson said. “It is a difficult country, but we are working hard on this. But it is a worrying case.”
During the local elections in North Korea last month, all voters approved the candidates who ran unopposed. Residents in the Asian country are legally required to vote during elections unless they have left the country with approval or if they work at sea. And although voters can vote against the candidate by picking up a red pen, doing so would result in immediate arrest and severe sentences.
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