August 10, 2011 09:55
A Dutch stamp collector has not returned from a trip to North Korea, the Dutch broadcaster RTV Utrecht reported on Monday.
Willem van der Bijl of Utrecht visited the North on July 17 to buy North Korean stamps and propaganda art. He was supposed to return home on July 30 but has been out of contact.
Van der Bijl had been to the North several times before, but this is the first time he has not contacted his family for such a long time, they said.
After the family reported him missing on Aug. 3, the Dutch government asked Pyongyang through its embassy in Seoul and the North Korean Embassy in Switzerland to confirm his whereabouts, but to no avail. The Netherlands is reportedly considering dispatching its ambassador in Seoul to the North.
The Hague is having difficulty because it has no official communication channels with Pyongyang. No phone calls can be made from there to the Netherlands, so the loss of communication does not necessarily mean danger, a spokesman for the Dutch Foreign Ministry said.
But North Korea experts in the Netherlands are worried about his safety. Prof. Remco Breuker of Leiden University said it makes no sense that the North Korean regime cannot say where he is since it normally assigns guides to all visiting foreigners.
There is speculation that the Dutchman may have been arrested for trying to buy rare stamps from an individual North Korean, whom foreigners are banned from contacting.
If so, this could damage relations between the North and the EU, the Dutch press said. The EU has been talking with the North about ways of giving it humanitarian food aid worth 10 million euros (approximately W15.5 billion).
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