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2018 Winter Olympics: North Korea, South Korea agree to march under unified flag

North Korea plan to send a 230-member cheering squad as part of their delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea

other sports Updated: Jan 17, 2018 18:48 IST
People pass by posters showing the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic mascots in Seoul on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. North Korea plans to send a 230-member cheering squad to South Korea as part of its delegation to next month's Winter Olympics, Seoul officials said in the latest in a series of conciliatory gestures the North has abruptly taken recently following a year of heightened nuclear tension.
People pass by posters showing the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic mascots in Seoul on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. North Korea plans to send a 230-member cheering squad to South Korea as part of its delegation to next month's Winter Olympics, Seoul officials said in the latest in a series of conciliatory gestures the North has abruptly taken recently following a year of heightened nuclear tension. (AP)

The two Koreas agreed during rare talks on Wednesday to form a combined women’s ice hockey team to take part in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South, and march together under a unified peninsula flag at the opening ceremony, a joint statement released by Seoul’s unification ministry said.

North Korea will send a 550-member delegation of about 550, including 230 cheerleaders, 140 artists and 30 Taekwondo players for a demonstration, the statement said. The delegation is scheduled to begin arriving in South Korea on January 25, the statement said.

Nuclear-armed Pyongyang agreed last week to send athletes, high-level officials, performers and others to next month’s Pyeongchang Games, taking place just 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides the peninsula.

PEACE OLYMPICS

Seoul has long sought to proclaim the event a “peace Olympics” in the face of tensions over the North’s weapons programmes -- which have seen it subjected to multiple UN Security Council sanctions -- and the discussions represent a marked improvement.

“Inter-Korean relations have been strained for almost 10 years,” the North’s chief delegate Jon Jong-Su said as the meeting started on the southern side of the border truce village of Panmunjom. “We hope that ties can open,” he added.

Three officials from each side took part and the results will be discussed by both Koreas with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Saturday.

The IOC must approve extra Olympic slots for the North’s athletes after they failed to qualify or missed deadlines to register.

CHEERLEADERS

An official at Seoul’s unification ministry said the North offered to send 230 cheerleaders to the Olympics, and made clear it also intended to take part in the Paralympics in March.

North Korea also proposed that their delegation travel by land through Kaesong, which lies on the main road from Pyongyang to Seoul.

Overland travel may be the only option for the North as the neighbours have no direct flights between them and Seoul’s unilateral sanctions against the regime ban any ship from their ports that has sailed to the North within the past 12 months.

South Korea will also need to find ways to accommodate the North Korean delegation without violating UN Security Council sanctions which block cash transfers to Pyongyang.

Any blacklisted officials in the North’s high-level delegation could be another potential stumbling block. In another meeting on Monday the two reached an agreement over a trip by a 140-member North Korean orchestra to the South to hold concerts in the capital and in Gangneung, one of the Games venues.

(With inputs from AFP)