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N Korea hoping to march with S Korea in Doha

The two Koreas are also planning to hold talks on fielding a joint team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2006 18:45 IST

North and South Korea are using the Asian Games as a chance to mend some fences, despite a growing rift between the two over the communist regime's recent missile launches and nuclear test.

Along with plans to march together at Friday's opening ceremony, which the North suggested earlier this month, the two Koreas were also planning to hold talks on fielding a joint team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The North Korean team, wearing bright blue blazers and red lapel pins bearing the likeness of the country's enigmatic leader Kim Jong Il, assembled in Doha on Tuesday for its official welcoming ceremony and flag raising. The team at the ceremony included about 90 athletes, trainers and officials.

A senior official said the team is planning to march together with the South Koreans under a "unification flag" in the Opening Ceremony.

"We are hopeful of doing that," said the official, who refused to be further identified.

North Korea's participation in the December 1-15 Games comes as tensions over its development of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles have risen dramatically. The October 9 nuclear test brought tough sanctions down on Pyongyang, and efforts have been stepped up to get North Korea back into six-nation negotiations aimed at persuading it to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Even so, South Korea has been reluctant to take a harsh stance toward its northern neighbor and inter-Korean diplomacy was expected to continue on the sidelines of the Asian Games.

The Koreas were to hold talks on Thursday on sending the joint team for Beijing. South Korean officials also said recently they had received the North's support for their bid for the 2014 Winter Games, a topic that would also likely to be discussed. In Seoul, South Korean media said that the Asian Games offered a chance to build unity between the two neighbors, despite the growing chill.

Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, said it would be the eighth time the Koreas have marched together at an international sports event.

The two countries will not be competing together, however. South Korea's 830-member delegation, most of which was to arrive on Wednesday, is hoping to win 70-75 golds, while the North is setting its sights on a much more humble goal of about 10 gold medals. The North is expected to participate in 16 events. Kim Jang San, the North Korean delegation chief, said the North is hoping to win medals in boxing and the Korean martial art of taekwondo.

First Published: Nov 28, 2006 18:45 IST