Russians enter North Korea in first foreign tour group since COVID-19 pandemic

  • World
  • Friday, 09 Feb 2024

FILE PHOTO: Russian and North Korean flags fly at the Vostochny Сosmodrome, the venue of the meeting between Russia's President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, in the far eastern Amur region, Russia, September 13, 2023. Sputnik/Artem Geodakyan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

SEOUL (Reuters) - About 100 Russians flew to North Korea on Friday for a private tour, becoming the first foreign group to visit the reclusive state following the COVID-19 pandemic in a landmark trip summed up by the Russian embassy as "Pyongyang opens its door."

North Korea shuttered its borders with some of the tightest restrictions during the pandemic, in one incident shooting dead a South Korean who floated unauthorized into its waters.

An Air Koryo flight, operated by North Korea with an ageing fleet of mostly Russian-made aircraft, carried the 100 visitors to the Pyongyang international airport, the Russian embassy said in a Facebook post on Friday.

The group included people in the tourism business and "travellers from literally all parts of Russia from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok" who will spend four days taking in sights in the North including a major ski resort, it said.

"We will look forward to new encounters with tourists from Russia!" it said. The ski resort it mentioned was a high-profile development project spearheaded by North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un after he took power in 2011.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency earlier cited Russia's Tass news agency as saying that 97 Russians, including teen ski athletes, departed from Russia's far eastern city of Vladivostok on the first group tour to North Korea since the pandemic.

The visit comes after Kim and Russian President Vladimir Putin met north of Vladivostok in September and pledged closer economic and military cooperation amid charges by Washington that Pyongyang was helping Putin in the war in Ukraine.

(Reporting by Jack Kim, Editing by William Maclean)

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