Archive for November, 2011

Yanggakdo Golf Course is no more…

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

UPDATE 2: A recent tourist who visited Yanggak Island in Pyongyang sent in this photo near the construction site:


UPDATE 1 (2012-7-17): It looks like the progress on this Chinese-funded health complex on Yangak Island is continuing.  I found this recent photo taken by a tourist:

ORIGINAL POST (2011-11-29):


Pictured above (L) is a Google Earth satellite image of the Yanggakdo Golf Club as of 2010-10-6.  Pictured to the right is the course as it looks “today”.  It has been removed.  It looks like something new is being constructed in its place!

Although this nine-hole course has been destroyed, there are still several golf options available in the DPRK if you get the chance:

Pyongyang Golf Course (18 holes):

Google Earth:  38.893709°, 125.435921°


Kumgangsan Golf course (18 holes):

Google Earth:  38.712574°, 128.213298°


KEDO Driving Range:

Google Earth:  40.045135°, 128.322831°


Pyongyang Driving Range:

Google Earth:  39.011826°, 125.694263°


And this three-hole course at an exclusive leadership compound (Wonhung-ri, Samsok-guyok, Pyongyang):

Google Earth:  39.110016°, 125.996765°


Syrian missile factory built with DPRK cooperation

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

The German newspaper Die Welt published a story which claims North Korea supplied Syria with a maraging steel and technical support which it has used to upgrade an underground missile factory that produces M-600 missiles.

Maraging steel is on the the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) monitoring lists, and its export is prohibited to sanctioned countries. North Korea is also prohibited from such activities under UNSC resolutions 1718 and 1874.

The Syrian missile factory, as identified in Haaretz,  can be seen on Google Earth at 35.006089°,  36.827331°, Google Maps, and Wikimapia, but below I have posted a couple of screen shots:


Above (left) is an overhead shot of the underground facility. Above (right) is a closeup of the facility entrance. Assuming the floor plan of the factory is a simple square, it could be 1,000m x 1,000m in area–and that is just one floor! The oldest Google Earth imagery of the facility is from 2003-7-12.

Additional information:
1. Joshua Pollack recently published a paper on the demand for conventional North Korean military output.  If you have not read it, you should. Click here for a link to the paper.

2. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) published North Korean Security Challenges: A Net Assessment. It presents a thorough analysis of the range of threats emanating from the DPRK. In addition to an assessment of military hardware and posture, the 216-page book looks at state criminality and behaviour relating to human security.

3. Joeseph Bermudez wrote about a North Korean missile factory here.

4. Previous posts on the DPRK and Syria are here, including nuclear proliferation.

Read the full stories below:
Syrien rüstet Raketen mit Nordkoreas Hilfe auf
Die Welt

North Korea supplying Syria, Iran with prohibited nuclear technology, report says
Yossi Melman


2011 ROK aid to the DPRK

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

UPDATE 32 (2012-1-27): According to an article in the New York Times, inter-Korean trade and aid declined in 2011:

On Friday, the South’s Unification Ministry said that South Korean aid to the North fell to 19.6 billion won, or $17.5 million, last year [2011], down more than 51 percent from a year earlier [2010].

Inter-Korean trade fell by more than 10 percent [from 2010 to 2011] to about $1.5 million in 2011, the ministry said.

UPDATE 31 (2011-12-10): According to the Korea Times, the potential food aid is not being auctioned off.  It is being sent to South America. According to the article:

Seoul will send baby food originally offered as aid to North Korea to El Salvador following Pyongyang’s refusal to accept delivery, to help the South American country deal with damaging floods, officials said Friday.

The delivery consists of 190,000 packs of baby food that were part of a $4.4 million flood aid package to the North, which the Stalinist regime rejected two months ago amid high tension.

It was slated to depart from the port city of Busan via cargo ship for El Salvador, which has appealed for help to deal with floods that displaced tens of thousands earlier this year.

Seoul offered the aid, which also included biscuits and instant noodles, to help the North deal with torrential summer rains. But Pyongyang demanded cement and equipment instead and eventually shunned the offer altogether.

The rerouting of the items underscores lingering tension despite efforts to warm ties and eventually resume regional dialogue on dismantling the North’s nuclear program. Regional players want the situation on the peninsula to improve before the talks begin.

Pyongyang’s silence over the aid put a damper on the early signs of improvement. President Lee Myung-bak has been exercising a softer line since September, when he tapped close aide Yu Woo-ik as unification minister, including expanding humanitarian activities and cultural exchanges.

But the North, apparently seeking rice and other forms of massive aid, has recently slammed the flexible policy as political pandering to the South Korean public, which is gearing up for elections next year.

Such remarks come even as the unification ministry continues to approve northbound aid, including $5.65 million worth for infants, children and pregnant women through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Consultations are ongoing over how to provide more of the baby food. Seoul has also attempted to auction some of it off through a government website.

The North Korean regime is thought to be doing all it can to secure food and other handouts ahead of next April, when it will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il-sung. Watchers say that the North is liable to alternate pressure and peace offensives to secure as much aid as it can through inter-Korean and multilateral channels.


UPDATE 30 (2011-12-6): According to the Korean Herald the first auction of potential food aid (See Update 27 below) did not go so well, so Seoul is trying again:

South Korea plans a second attempt to auction off baby food originally intended for North Korean children, officials said Tuesday.

The move comes after nobody bid for 540,000 packs of baby food on Onbid, an auction Web site run by the state-run Korea Asset Management Corp.

South Korea plans to issue a second public notice and adjust the prices, said an official handling the issue at the Unification Ministry. He did not elaborate on further details.

The baby food is part of 5 billion won ($4.4 million) worth of emergency relief aid South Korea had planned to ship to North Korean flood victims earlier this year.

South Korea dropped that plan in October after differences between the two Koreas on the items to be sent. South Korea had insisted it would deliver baby food, biscuits and instant noodles to the North, instead of the cement and equipment its communist neighbor had requested.

Separately, South Korea has been in talks with local private relief agencies over how to donate another 290,000 packs of baby food to other countries, according to another ministry official.

She declined to give further details, saying consultations are taking place.

UPDATE 29 (2011-12-5): The South Koreans will donate US$5.65 million to the DPRK via UNICEF.  Accoring to Yonhap:

South Korea said Monday it will donate US$5.65 million (about 6.5 billion won) for humanitarian projects in North Korea through the U.N. body responsible for the rights of children.

The donation to the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, will benefit about 1.46 million infants, children and pregnant women in North Korea, according to the Unification Ministry, which is in charge of relations with the North.

Seoul’s contribution will be used to provide vaccines and other medical supplies as well as to treat malnourished children next year, said the ministry.

There have been concerns that a third of all North Korean children under five are chronically malnourished and that many more children are at risk of slipping into acute stages of malnutrition unless targeted assistance is sustained.

“The decision is in line with the government’s basic stance of maintaining its pure humanitarian aid projects for vulnerable people regardless of political situation,” Unification Ministry spokesman Choi Boh-seon told reporters.

South Korea has been seeking flexibility in its policies toward the North to try to improve their strained relations over the North’s two deadly attacks on the South last year.

South Korea donated $20 million for humanitarian projects in North Korea through the UNICEF between 1996 and 2009.

Last month, the South also resumed some $6.94 million worth of medical aid to the impoverished communist country through the World Health Organization.


Separately, South Korea also decided to give 2.7 billion won ($2.3 million) to a foundation to help build emergency medical facilities in an industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.

More than 47,000 North Koreans work at about 120 South Korean firms operating in the industrial zone to produce clothes, utensils, watches and other goods. The project serves as a key legitimate cash cow for the impoverished communist country.

UPDATE 28 (2011-12-1): Distribution of private aid monitored in N.Korea. According to the Hankyoreh:

“North Koreans know that the wheat flour aid they received came from South Korea.”

These were the words of Cho Joong-hoon, director of the Unification Ministry’s humanitarian assistance division, during a meeting with reporters Wednesday at the Central Governmental Complex in Seoul upon his return from a recent visit to North Korea to monitor the distribution of aid.

“The name of the South Korean private aid group, the manufacturing company, the date, and the address were all printed on the packages of flour,” Cho said.

Arriving in North Korea on Sunday with Kim Min-ha, co-chairman of the private group Ambassadors for Peace, and three others, Cho visited three sites to observe the distribution of the 300 tons of flour provided in aid. The site were the Namchol Kindergarten, February 16 Refinery Kindergarten, and Tongmun Nursery in Chongju, North Pyongan.

It was the first visit to any part of North Korea besides Kaseong and Mt. Kumkang by a government official in the one year since the Yeonpyeong Island artillery attack on Nov. 23, 2010.

Cho said that the distribution, storage, preparation, and supply of the flour were monitored and that everything was confirmed to be proceeding as planned.

On the situation on the ground, Cho said, “Judging simply from the nursery and two kindergartens, the children’s nutritional condition does not appear to be good.” Cho noted that no heating was being supplied to the facilities despite the cold weather.

Cho said that while North Korean authorities did not official request food aid, a request was made under unofficial circumstances.

Cho also noted that construction efforts were under way on a highway connecting Pyongyang with Sinuiju.

“It is not very far from Pyongyang to Chongju, but I think the trip took about four hours because of the detour around the highway construction,” he said.

Analysts said this appears to be linked to hurried infrastructure building efforts, including highway servicing and construction, amid recent moves by North Korea to rebuild its economy through a stronger economic partnership with China.

UPDATE  27 (2011-11-29): Seoul auctions off “unwanted” DPRK food assistance. According ot the Korea Times:

South Korea has taken steps to auction off some baby food originally intended for North Korean children, an official said Tuesday.

The move comes nearly two months after South Korea dropped a plan to send 5 billion won ($4.3 million) worth of aid to North Korean flood victims, citing no response from the North as the reason for the change of plan.

South Korea had insisted it would deliver baby food, biscuits and instant noodles to the North instead of cement and equipment requested by the North.

South Korea’s Red Cross, which handles relief aid to the North, gave public notice of a bid for 540,000 packs of baby food on Onbid, an auction website run by the state-run Korea Asset Management Corp.

Separately, South Korea has been in talks with local private relief agencies over how to donate the other 290,000 packs of baby food to foreign countries.

Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik has ruled out rice aid to the communist country unless Pyongyang admits to last year’s deadly provocations.

South Korea suspended unconditional aid in 2008 and imposed sanctions on the North last year in retaliation for the sinking of a South Korean warship that was blamed on the North.

The North has denied involvement in the sinking that killed 46 sailors. It also shelled a South Korean border island in November 2010, killing four South Koreans.

Still, South Korea has selectively allowed religious and private aid groups to deliver humanitarian and medical assistance to North Korea.

Also on Tuesday, a Unification Ministry official and four civilians were to return home after a rare trip to the North aimed at ensuring that South Korea’s recent private aid had reached its intended beneficiaries.

UPDATE 26 (2011-11-25): According to Yonhap, ROK officials are traveling to the DPRK to monitor food aid:

A South Korean official and four civilians left for North Korea on Friday on a rare mission to ensure that recent aid from Seoul had reached its intended beneficiaries, an official said.

The trip comes a day after North Korea threatened to turn South Korea’s presidential office into “a sea of fire” in anger over Seoul’s massive military maneuvers near the tense sea border.

The Unification Ministry official and four civilians were to arrive in the North’s capital later Friday via Beijing, according to the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.

It is first time that North Korea has allowed a South Korean official to travel to the isolated country to monitor aid since a conservative government took power in Seoul in 2008.

They are scheduled to visit a day care center and two other child care facilities in the northwestern city of Jongju to monitor how 300 tons of flour were distributed to children and other recipients, according to a civic group.

Ambassadors for Peace Association, a civic group that is partly funded by the Unification Group, donated the flour to Jongju, the birthplace of Unification Church founder Moon Sun-myung.

The civic group said the monitors also plan to discuss details on another 300 tons of flour aid before returning home Tuesday. Some members of the civic group are associated with the controversial Unification Church.

Read previous posts on the ROK’s aid to the DPRK in 2011 below:



Hardship changes marriage patterns in DPRK

Monday, November 28th, 2011

According ot the Choson Ilbo:

More and more North Korean women are marrying younger men as their superior earning power makes them increasingly eligible. Park Young-ja of Ewha Womans University’s Institute of Unification Studies told a seminar Thursday more women are becoming breadwinners as the North’s economic hardship deepens.

“Young women are avoiding marriage or opt for informal cohabitation. And an increasing number of women are choosing younger men so that they can have more control in the relationship.”

One female North Korean defector in her 30s said, “Even if the authorities tell people not to, men are living with women who are five or six years older, because these women have experience making ends meet.”

The number of divorces initiated by women is on the rise as well. The regime is threatening to expel divorcees, but to no avail. “North Koreans don’t take warnings from the regime seriously because they believe that there is no need to report marriage or divorce to the government,” Park said.

“Recently an increasing number of people don’t bother to register their partnership and just go their separate ways after a few months or years if they want.”

Hardship Changes Marriage Patterns in N.Korea
Choson Ilbo


Koryolink offers mobile access to “Rodong Sinmun”

Monday, November 28th, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

North Korean cell phone users are now reportedly able to read the news and views of the Chosun Workers’ Party on the move.

Chosun Shinbo, a publication run from Japan by the General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun), announced the news on Saturday, saying, “Koryolink, Chosun’s 3G cell phone service provider, has begun a service allowing the reading of Rodong Shinmun, one of the major newspapers, on cell phones.”

Chosun Shinbo also announced its own plans to set up a mobile service in the near future.

The Rodong Shinmun cell phone application is just the latest in a long line of interesting developments in the Koryolink story. Last January the company introduced a multimedia messaging service (MMS). Later in the year it also introduced a video call service, which received a positive reaction from younger users.

As expected, Chosun Shinbo claimed that many North Korean citizens are enjoying the new service on the way to work. One Pyongyang man was quoted by the paper as saying, “It’s very convenient being able to read the news every morning on my mobile phone. You can also go back and read all the news from a few months ago, too, which is great.”

Another resident of the North Korean capital reportedly commented that reading the news on their phone is the first and most important thing they do in the morning.

Interestingly, Chosun Central TV ran a program on November 7th including content teaching mobile phone users of the social etiquette they needed to follow, telling them to avoid bothering people nearby by lowering the ringtone or setting the device to vibrate mode, and to avoid speaking too loudly.

The Wall Street Journal also covered this development.

Read the full story here:
Rodong Shinmun on the Move
Daily NK
Cho Jong-ik


Some new Google Earth imagery…

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Google Earth is offering some new imagery of the DPRK so I wanted to point out a few of the new locations we can identify.  The Pyongyang imagery is dated 2011-3-15. The east-coast imagery is dated 2011-5-14.

1. Solar Equipment Center (태양열설비쎈)

(Google Earth Coordinates: 39.014504°, 125.662840° , Google Maps, Wikimapia)

Kim Jong-il visited this facility on October 9, 2011.  It produces solar water heaters (KCNA).

2. Kumkop (gold cup) Combined Foodstuff Factory (금컵체육인종합식료공장)

(Google Earth Coordinates: 39.009592°, 125.671213°, Google Maps, Wikimapia)

According to KCNA:

The factory produces rice cake, bread, confectionary, processed meat and drinks. It also has welfare facilities for its employees.

The drinks, including carbonated water and nutritious water, are made with natural medicinal materials good for recovery from fatigue and promotion of health.

3. New Taekwando Center construction:


(Google Earth Coordinates:  39.016453°, 125.681939°, Google Maps, Wikimapia)

This facility is due to be completed in July.  I am not sure what it offers that the other Taekwando Center located right next door doesn’t have.

4. Something new at the old baseball stadium:


(Google Earth Coordinates:  39.008113°, 125.679196°, Google Maps, Wikimapia)

5. Wonsan – Hamhung Road (Partial map):

(Google Earth Coordinates:  39.421286°, 127.272296°, Google Maps, Wikimapia)

Read more about this road here.

6. And not really new, but Kim Jong-il recently visited the wind power farm of KPA Air Force Unit 1016–so I thought I would post it:

This facility is located in Kwail County (과일군) at  38.442086°, 124.939944°.  I have also marked it on Wikimapia and Google Maps.  According to KCNA:

[Kim Jong-il] toured a wind power plant built by the unit. After being briefed on the plant, he went round its inside and outside to learn about its construction and output of electricity.

Very pleased to hear that servicepersons of the unit successfully completed the plant with high output capacity in cooperation with Kim Chaek University of Technology and scientific institutions, he gave a high appreciation of their merit.

I am relaxed to hear that pilots and servicepersons rejoice at the plant as they can freely use enough electricity for combat preparations while cooking and heating with it, he said.

Being told that the plant freed the unit from the shortage of electricity and some of excessive power is supplied even to a bathing resort in the unit’s stationary area, he said with high appreciation that the People’s Army has done good things for the people.

After his inspection, Kim Jong Il gave the accompanying commanding officials and staff members of the KPA Supreme Command precious teachings needed to further strengthen the KPA into an invincible revolutionary army of Mt. Paektu and thus defend the socialist motherland as firm as a rock.

Just east of this facility is an air force base, so it is reasonable to assume that this is the home of KPA Air Force Unit 1016:

This wind power farm is not the KPA Air Force’s only or even largest experiment with wind power. Below is a Google Earth image of a facility in Ongjin County:

This facility is located in Google Earth here: 37.941508°, 125.409778°. I have also tagged it on Wikimpaia and Google Maps. It contains four wind turbines on two different sites (as of 2010-7-4).

I have uploaded a short clip to You Tube that is taken from North Korean television.  It shows a romanticized account of the installation of these specific wind power turbines.  You can see the clip here.


7 Chinese killed in road accidents near Pyongyang

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth): The Pyongyang Friendship Hospital, where the Chinese visitors are being treated.

According to Xinhua (PR China):

Seven Chinese citizens and three nationals from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) were killed in two traffic accidents near Pyongyang, the Chinese Embassy in the DPRK said Sunday.

On Saturday morning, a bus carrying 27 Chinese tourists overturned about 60 km away from Pyongyang, due to the slippery iced road caused by icy rain. Another bus with a 17-member Chinese business delegation plunged into a ravine from a bridge in the same section minutes later.

Ten wounded Chinese, including three seriously injured, were being treated at the Pyongyang Friendship Hospital, while the others were confirmed unharmed.

A work group sent by relevant Chinese authorities has arrived in Pyongyang. The Chinese Embassy activated an emergency mechanism and dispatched staff to look after the patients in the hospital on a 24-hour duty.

The DPRK government has instructed health, tourism and diplomatic departments to deal with related issues. DPRK officials have also visited the wounded Chinese in the hospital.

UPDATE: Adam Cathcart is also following this story.

Read the full story here:
7 Chinese killed in road accidents near Pyongyang


Anthracite export to China suspended temporarily

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea has reportedly stopped coal export temporarily to manage fuel shortage during the winter season.

According to Chinese traders from Shenyang, their North Korean trade counterparts informed them that they recently received official orders from the government to stop exporting coal. Except for those orders previously received, coal from North Korea will not be leaving the country for the time being.

The export volume of coal has continuously increased this year, consequently causing a domestic shortfall in the supply of coal. In fear of power and fuel shortages for the winter season, North Korea is believed to be taking precautionary measures to preserve energy supply, especially with hydroelectric power generators not in operation.

From this year, North Korea has drastically increased coal export to China. From January to July, China has imported about 816,700 tons of North Korean anthracites, nine times more than the previous year. Anthracites made up 46.3 percent of the all the exports to China.

The amount of North Korean anthracites that entered China via Donggang Port (located in Dandong City, Liaoning Province) reached over 77.7 million USD. The city of Dandong is located across from Sinuiju. Separated by the Amnok River (Yalu River), it is the trade hub between China and the DPRK, with over 70 percent of total bilateral trade taking place in the city, as anthracite coal as the main object of trade.

With the international price of coal on the rise and operation of hydroelectric power plants in decline, dependence on thermoelectricity is growing, which explains the recent climb in China’s anthracite import.

Toughened international sanctions and halted trade with South Korea has made North Korea turn to natural resource trading with China to bring in hard currency.

In August 2009, North Korea halted coal exports when it was faced with extreme power shortage. However, coal trade was resumed the following April.

Massive amounts of coal were exported to China to earn foreign currency, but this has created serious energy shortage affecting the operations of factories and other industrial facilities.

During the field guidance visit to the February 8 Vinalon Complex, Kim Jong Il emphasized that “Raw materials must be adequately supplied to normalize the production of factories.”

However, most North Korean traders agreed that such suspension would not be prolonged for a lengthy period, since North Korea, who is heavily dependent on mined resource exports including coal and steel, cannot afford to enforce a trade embargo for long. Many expect the trade to resume by next spring.


Naenara commends DPRK “math-letes”

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth): Pyongyang Middle School No. 1

According to the Nov 2011 issue of Korea Magazine (via Naenara):

The International Math Olympiad that ran in the Netherlands in July drew more than 560 students from over 100 countries and regions.

The annual Olympiad attracts worldwide attention as it is a good occasion for judging the level of education and the prospect of scientific development of each country.

All of the six students from the DPRK were highly appraised. Mun So Min, Mun Hak Myong and Hong Chung Song from Pyongyang Secondary School No.1 have won gold medals and Ri Yong Hyon and Ryu Song Chol from Pyongyang Secondary School No.1 and Kim Hyo Song from East Pyongyang Secondary School No.1 silver medals.

After a prize-giving ceremony was over, their tutor Ri Kwang Il said with pride to journalists that their successes were the fruition of the excellent educational system of the DPRK.

In the DPRK favourable conditions are provided for educating even one or two children in a remote mountainous village and isolated islet. School bus, train and ship can be seen.

Specialists, famous professors and doctors strive to find out talented children in time and train them.

Under the good educational system, the six students from the DPRK have studied to their heart’s content. Thus they gave full play to their abilities in the international contest.

They are now working harder out of desire to live up to the expectations of their motherland.

A minor translation note…recently the official North Korean media began translating “중학교” as “Secondary School” rather than “Middle School”.  Thus, Pyongyang Secondary School No. 1 is more commonly known in English as the Pyongyang Middle School No. 1.   You can see it in Google Maps here.

Back to the main point: According to the International Math Olympiad’s web page, the DPRK came in a respectable seventh place in the 2011 tournament.  Unmentioned in the Naeanra article is that the DPRK is the only team to have ever been disqualified in the tournament’s history, and it has been twice: in 2010 and 1991.

I wrote a previous post about the tournament here.



Dutch stamp dealer accused of being a spy in North Korea

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

By Michael Rank

A Dutch stamp dealer who was arrested in North Korea this summer has told how he was held in solitary confinement for two weeks and threatened with spending 15 years in prison for spying.

Willem Van der Bijl said in a telephone interview that he had visited North Korea about 24 times since 1998 in order to buy stamps, postal stationery and propaganda posters, and that three of his business contacts were arrested with him last August. Although he was freed after a highly unpleasant two weeks during which he was held in a two-by-three metre cell, he has no idea what has happened to his North Korean colleagues, but fears they will be severely punished.

He said he had been “intimidated” by his interrogators but not physically mistreated during his detention. “They yelled at me but did not hit me”, he said, adding that he was accused of being a spy apparently because of the large number of photographs he had taken of the North Korean countryside during trips to factories outside Pyongyang to discuss possible joint ventures.

He was released after signing a confession to his alleged crimes, and said the North Koreans confiscated his laptop and camera as well as a Kim Il Sung badge that had been given to him, but his money was returned to him. “I was happy to leave,” he said, adding that “There was nothing really wrong in what I did…All I did in North Korea was fairly correct”.

Van der Bijl, 60, photographed here with an interview in Dutch, said his North Korean colleagues were held in the same interrogation centre as he was and that he was deeply concerned that “They will have to face trial, and I will never see them again.”

Although mainly a stamp dealer with a stamp shop in Utrecht, he said he had become interested in collecting propaganda posters during his last few visits, and had a collection of thousands of posters.

He said North Korean officials seemed divided in their attitude as to whether such posters should be sold to foreigners. “The ‘doves’ say this art is popular in the west and should be sold; the ‘hawks’ do not want to export secret paintings, they are meant for the Korean people,” Van der Bijl said.

He said his hopes mounted every Tuesday and Saturday that he would be released as there are flights from Pyongyang to Beijing on those days, and as time progressed he became more worried that he would be sentenced to spending up to 15 years in jail for espionage. When he was freed he was told he could apply for a visa to visit North Korea again, but he told NKEW said he had no wish to do so as long as the current regime remains in power.

He said he had taken car journeys about 120 km outside Pyongyang nominally to visit companies to discuss joint ventures, but he was more interested in taking photographs of the impoverished countryside, and that North Korean factories were too dilapidated for there to be any serious chance of doing business with them.

Somewhat surprisingly, Van der Bijl is quoted on two official North Korean websites here and here before his arrest concerning local elections in North Korea in July. He visited a polling station during the elections and was quoted as saying, “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.

“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. The popular election system of the DPRK is really excellent.”

He confirmed he had spoken to North Korean reporters at a Pyongyang polling station, but said all he had told them was that he had never seen elections run in such a way before, and strongly denied praising the elections as free and fair

Also surprisingly, Van der Bijl is shown wearing a Kim badge in two photographs of him on the Pyongyang Times websites. It’s rare for foreigners to be given a Kim badge and still rarer for them to be shown wearing one in the official North Korean media. Van der Bijl said he was unsure where the photos were taken. One of the websites shows Van der Bijl’s signature, copied from his passport.