N. Korea to send Olympic team to South after high-level talks

Seoul, Jan 9 (IANS) North Korea will send a delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games taking place in South Korea in February, the two sides announced as they held long-anticipated high-level talks on Tuesday.

Held at the truce village of Panmunjom, a heavily fortified border area in South Korea’s North Hwanghae province, the high-level meeting was the first of its kind since December 2015. Both sides also discussed ways to improve their long-stalled bilateral ties.

The North Korea’s delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics will include athletes, officials and supporters, the BBC reported.

Five representatives from the highest levels of both governments — including South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and the North Korean chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, Ri Son-gwon were present at the meeting.

“The North side proposed dispatching a high-level delegation, National Olympic Committee delegation, athletes, supporters, art performers, observers, a taekwondo demonstration team and journalists to the Games,” Seoul’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told journalists.

The South proposed that athletes from both Koreas march together at the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang as they did at the 2006 Winter Olympics.

A military hotline between the nations, suspended for nearly two years, was also reinstated, Yonhap news agency reported.

The North notified the South that it reconnected the hotline on the west coast earlier in the day, according to a South Korean government official. The line will be operating normally starting 8 a.m. on Wednesday.

Pyongyang already restored the border hotline with Seoul last week.

Seoul also proposed resuming negotiations over military issues and the North’s nuclear programme. The South said it would consider temporarily lifting relevant sanctions, in co-ordination with the UN, to facilitate the North’s participation in the Olympics.

The North’s response to all of the South’s proposals was not yet known. The opening remarks of head of the North Korean delegation, Ri Son-gwon, were fairly neutral.

Ri said he hoped the talks would bring a “good gift” for the new year and that the North had a “serious and sincere stance”.

Tuesday’s meeting came after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un extended a rare rapprochement to Seoul in his New Year’s Day message.

Following Kim’s overture, the South then proposed high-level talks to discuss the North’s participation in the Games, but the North only agreed to the talks after the US and South Korea agreed to delay their joint military exercises until after the Olympics. The North sees the annual drills as a rehearsal for war.

The talks came as North Korea is under tough international sanctions over its nuclear and missile provocations.

It conducted its sixth nuclear test and fired three intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) last year.