North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

van der Bijl Returns to NL

Storefront of Willem van der Bijl's shop on Zandelstraat in Utrecht, NL. (Photo: Winkenelsvinden.nl)

Willem van der Bijl, owner of a Utrecht stamp and coin shop, returned to The Netherlands via Beijing on Saturday (13 August).  Mr. van der Bijl had been slated to return to his home country on 30 July, but was not on his return flight.  People close to van der Bijl claim that he may have been detained by DPRK authorities for weeks.  During the time of his disappearance, he appeared in DPRK media where talked about his visit to a polling place for elections to local power organs (i.e. Local People’s Assemblies).  Mr. van der Bijl had traveled to the DPRK on up to two dozen occasions.  Radio Netherlands reports:

A spokesperson said the foreign ministry never comments on individual cases. However, a friend of the family told local television channel RTV Utrecht that Van der Bijl was held on suspicion of subversive activities. He said Van der Bijl was interrogated for two weeks before being put on a plane to Beijing on Saturday.

Mr Van der Bijl, who has visited the country a number of times at the invitation of North Korean business partners, was originally scheduled to return to the Netherlands on 30 July.

His Dutch business associate Ronald de Groen raised the alarm when he failed to appear for the return flight. At the time, Mr De Groen had not spoken to Mr Van der Bijl for some weeks because foreigners have to hand in their mobile phones when they enter North Korea.

In the past few weeks, the foreign ministry repeatedly contacted the North Korean authorities to inquire after the whereabouts and the wellbeing of Van der Bijl. ,,We are glad he was able to leave the country,” the spokesperson said.

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