North Korean jets fly to China to pick up pandemic supplies: Sources

Multiple round trips in recent days appear to be first Air Koryo international flights since early 2020

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North Korean jets fly to China to pick up pandemic supplies: Sources- BPN TODAY

Several North Korean aircraft flew to neighboring China in recent days to collect COVID-19 related supplies, informed sources told NK News on Tuesday, the DPRK’s first known international flights since March 2020.

The Air Koryo flights took place between Pyongyang and Shenyang, the sources said, confirming portions of related reporting by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency and Kyeounghan Newspaper.

At least some of the flights occurred overnight, sources told NK News, though none were recorded in commercial flight tracking systems such as FlightRadar24 and FlightAware. 

Planet Labs high-resolution satellite imagery shows unusual activity around national carrier Air Koryo airplanes parked at Pyongyang International Airport on Sunday, indicating preparations may have been underway to receive flights. 

The imagery shows that crates and platforms used for loading and unloading planes were moved for the first time in at least two years and organized in a group further away from the terminal, though the reason for this is unclear.

Yonhap reported, per multiple unnamed sources, that at least three Air Koryo aircraft flew to collect COVID-19-related supplies from Shenyang following DPRK requests for supplies. No Chinese personnel joined the flights back to North Korea, Yonhap reported.

China previously promised to “go all out” to support Pyongyang amid the current outbreak. 

The Pyongyang-Shenyang flights appear to be the first since North Korea’s state airline halted all international flights in Jan. 2020 amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. One exceptional flight between Pyongyang and Vladivostok was granted in March 2020 in order to return a group of diplomats, NGO workers and U.N staff home.

Sources previously told NK News that Pyongyang had rejected several proposals by diplomatic missions to fly cargo and personnel into the country since the pandemic began, citing the risks of COVID transmission from overseas. 

For example, a request from Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to fly a chartered aircraft to the country for support and evacuation purposes was rejected by DPRK authorities in Feb. 2020. Other similar proposals were also rejected, even when accompanied with proposals to immediately quarantine and disinfect all arriving personnel and cargo, sources told NK News.

The apparently urgent shipments come after North Korea and China reopened a rail freight trade route in mid-January in order to import medicine and other items. The two sides suspended overland trade at the end of April, however, due to an outbreak of COVID-19 in the Chinese border city of Dandong where the rail link is located. 

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