North Korea resumed international passenger flights on Tuesday, with a morning plane from Pyongyang arriving in Beijing and a return flight later departing for the North Korean capital, marking the end of a suspension since early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over 100 people boarded the return flight to the capital operated by North Korea's state-run carrier, Air Koryo. Many North Korean nationals were stranded in China after Pyongyang shut its borders in early 2020 to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

An Air Koryo passenger plane (back) arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport from Pyongyang on Aug. 22, 2023. (Kyodo) 
An Air Koryo passenger plane flies out of Beijing Capital International Airport to Pyongyang on Aug. 22, 2023.  (Kyodo)

Ji Jae Ryong, who served as North Korea's ambassador to China between 2010 and 2021, was among those who headed home aboard the Air Koryo flight. He was replaced by Ri Ryong Nam in February 2021.

Ji, who was in a wheelchair, was seen aided by an official of the North Korean Embassy in China at the Beijing Capital International Airport.

It is thought that only a few passengers, who were seen at the exit of the Beijing airport, were aboard the morning flight from Pyongyang.

Dozens of people arrived at the airport in vehicles, likely organized by the North Korean Embassy in Beijing. An individual, possibly from the embassy, was seen trying to prevent journalists from interviewing them.

Air Koryo last operated an international passenger flight on Feb. 1, 2020. Before the pandemic, there had been five round-trip weekly flights between Pyongyang and Beijing.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Monday it had approved the restart of regular passenger flights between China and North Korea to be operated by Air Koryo.

Two flights from Pyongyang are also expected to arrive in Vladivostok in Russia's Far East on Friday, and on Aug. 28, Tass news agency has quoted a local airport official as saying.

Last year, Pyongyang resumed cargo services by train and truck to and from China and Russia.

Last Wednesday, approximately 50 individuals, presumed to be North Korean athletes heading to Kazakhstan for a taekwondo event, arrived in China's border city of Dandong by bus. This marked Pyongyang's first overseas sports team dispatch since the border closure.

An information board at Beijing Capital International Airport indicates that an Air Koryo flight from Pyongyang Sunan International Airport (3rd from top) was cancelled on Aug. 21, 2023.  (Kyodo) 

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