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North Korea restarts international flights after 3 years

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North Korea‘s first international commercial flight in three years landed in Beijing on Tuesday, as Pyongyang shows tentative signs of easing its prolonged Covid isolation.

North Korea shut its borders in early 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but there are increasing signals the country may be moving towards reopening.

Chinese and Russian officials attended a military parade in Pyongyang last month — the first foreign dignitaries to visit the country in years.

And last week a delegation of athletes was allowed to attend a taekwondo competition in Kazakhstan.

On Tuesday, state-run Air Koryo flight JS151 arrived at Beijing’s Capital Airport at around 09:15 am (0115 GMT), an arrivals board showed, having taken off at 08:30 am Pyongyang time (2330 GMT).

AFP reporters at the airport saw only two North Koreans — recognisable by their distinctive badges bearing the faces of former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il — come through the arrival gate.

One was identified by specialist website NK News analyst Colin Zwirko as General Kim Jin, who Chinese media say has served as a military attache in Beijing.

Neither spoke to media.

Another Air Koryo flight bound for Pyongyang departed just after 1:00 pm, a tracking website showed.

The Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency published photos of a number of North Koreans lining up to check in luggage for that flight.

Approached for comment at its office in Beijing on Tuesday, a representative of Air Koryo said he had “no information” to offer.

A previously scheduled North Korean flight to Beijing on Monday was abruptly cancelled, with no official reason given.

An Air Koryo representative on Monday referred AFP reporters to North Korean ruling party newspaper the Rodong Sinmun for “accurate” information.

Asked about the flights, China’s foreign ministry said that it had approved restarting commercial air travel between Beijing and Pyongyang.

“During the summer and autumn flight season… the Chinese side approved flight plans for passengers such as the Pyongyang-Beijing and Beijing-Pyongyang routes of Air Koryo,” foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a regular briefing on Monday.

Reports from CNN and NK News said that Air Koryo was set to carry out two flights from Russia’s Vladivostok to Pyongyang on Friday and next Monday.


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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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