Korean advance team goes to North for pre-Olympic events

President Moon Jae-in speaks in a weekly meeting with top presidential aides held at his office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Jan. 22 2018

Korean advance team goes to North for pre-Olympic events

The two Koreas agreed last week to field a combined women's ice hockey team and march together under one flag at next month's Winter Olympics after a new round of talks amid a thaw in cross-border relations.

The current mood of reconciliation between the Koreas flared after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un abruptly expressed his willingness to improve ties and send a delegation to the Olympics during his annual New Year's address.

The four-party meeting in Switzerland among the International Olympic Committee, South Korean and North Korean Olympic committees and the Pyongyang organizing committee focused on whether to form a unified women's ice hockey team, another controversial topic in South Korea.

North Korea's participation in the Olympics has been seen as a win for South Korea president Moon Jae-in, who hopes to use the event to make a diplomatic breakthrough in the standoff over North Korea's nuclear and missile program.

"Such an agreement would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago", he added.

The South Korean team is to visit those places in North Korea from Tuesday to Thursday. It will be part of a North Korean Olympic delegation that will also include athletes, officials, state media reporters, a cheering group and a taekwondo demonstration team.

The seven-member team is led by Hyon Song-wol, head of the North's Samjiyon Orchestra, and known as one of the most influential women in the secretive communist nation.

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"The Olympic spirit is about respect, dialogue and understanding", Bach said after making the announcement in Lausanne.

"This is an unpardonable provocation going against the aspiration and desire of all Koreans for the country's peace and reunification and aggravating the regional situation", the North's official KCNA said in a commentary.

People ski at Masikrong Ski Resort in North Korea, in this picture from Rodong Sinmun.

The stoney-faced officials, surrounded by hundreds of Seoul police officers, then boarded a train to the eastern city of Gangneung, where one of two planned concerts is due to be held. Bach is flanked by North Korean Sports Minister and Olympic Committee President Kim Il-guk (left), and South Korean Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Do Jong-hwan.

No North Korean athlete had technically qualified for Pyeongchang, so yesterday's announcement required extending qualification deadlines in the sports concerned.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov said he did not rule out the possibility that a North Korean delegation could visit Moscow ahead of the Games.

Under the International Olympic Committee agreement, the squad will add 12 North Korean players to the 23 South Korean members.

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