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N. Korea abruptly cancels first post-Covid intl commercial flight

by Agence France Presse

BEIJING, China– North Korea’s national airline was set to make its first commercial flight in over three years on Monday, only for it to be abruptly cancelled at the last minute.

North Korea has been largely closed off from the outside world since early 2020, when it shut its borders in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Journalists gathered on Monday at Beijing’s Capital International Airport to await Air Koryo flight JS151 from Pyongyang, due to arrive at 09:50 am.

But almost two hours after its scheduled arrival, a signboard in the terminal unexpectedly signalled it had been cancelled, prompting groans of disappointment from media waiting to see some of the isolated North’s first international travellers in years.

Beijing airport customer service told AFP that Air Koryo had not given a reason for the cancellation.

AFP was unable to contact Air Koryo’s Beijing office on Monday, and a journalist who visited the state-owned airline’s outpost in the Chinese capital found the glass doors locked and bolted.

But the office seemed well-maintained, and a worker on the same floor said airline staff did occasionally show up, though none had appeared that morning.

A person with knowledge of Air Koryo’s China operations told AFP they were not aware of any scheduled flights between Pyongyang and Beijing.

The person, who requested anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media, added that the company had not received notice from the North Korean government to restart flights to China.

“The information that you have is mistaken. Flights have not resumed,” they said.

Taekwondo delegation

After three years of Covid-induced isolation, there are increasing signs Pyongyang may be becoming more flexible on border controls, experts say.

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

Last week Pyongyang allowed a delegation of athletes to attend a taekwondo competition in Kazakhstan.

The Yonhap and Kyodo news agencies reported that a group of people, believed to be North Korean athletes, had crossed the land border into China last Wednesday before travelling on to Beijing, then flying to Central Asia.

Monday was expected to see Air Koryo — Pyongyang’s beleaguered national air carrier — conduct its first commercial flight in over three years.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which manages relations with the North, told AFP there was “absolutely nothing we are aware of” regarding the cancellation of the flight.

“There have been various signs regarding North Korea’s reopening of its borders,” an official said

“But it is difficult to determine yet whether it is a full-scale opening of the border or a fairly limited and controlled opening,” they added.

Specialist website NK News reported Monday 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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