Taekwondo athletes appear to be North Korea’s first delegation to travel since border closed in 2020

North Korea appears to have sent its first delegation abroad since it closed its borders in early 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic

ByThe Associated Press

August 17, 2023, 10:48 PM

North Korean men wearing track suits with the North Korean flag and the words Taekwon-Do printed on the back arrive to check in for a flight to Astana at the Capital Airport in Beijing, Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. A team of North Korean Taekwondo athletes are reportedly travelling via China to Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, to compete in a Taekwondo competition. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The Associated Press

BEIJING — North Korean taekwondo athletes and officials were traveling through Beijing on Friday morning, apparently the country’s first delegation to travel abroad since the nation closed its borders in early 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group of around 80 men and women wearing white track suits with “Taekwondo-Do” printed on the back and the North Korean flag on the front were in the departure hall of Beijing’s international airport checking in and walking to customs. They reportedly arrived Wednesday or Thursday.

The group was expected to take an Air Astana flight to Kazakhstan to compete at the International Taekwon-do Federation World Championships, according to Japanese and South Korean media. The competition is being held in Astana through Aug. 30.

North Korea has extremely limited air connections at the best of times and travel all but ended when Pyongyang closed the national borders to prevent the spread of COVID-19. How badly North Koreans were affected by the illness is unknown, since the country lacks most basic health care and shares limited information with the outside world.

The apparent resumption of travel came as the U.N. rights chief, Volker Türk, told the first open meeting of the U.N. Security Council since 2017 on North Korean human rights that the country was increasing its repression and people were becoming more desperate, with some reported to be starving as the economic situation worsens.

Türk said North Korea’s restrictions are even more extensive, with guards authorized to shoot any unauthorized person approaching the border and with almost all foreigners, including U.N. staff, still barred from the country.


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