N. Korean delegation in S. Korea to inspect Olympic venues

Jan 22, 2018, 08:42 am

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A North Korean advance team led by Hyon Song-wol, head of North Korea's Samjiyon Orchestra, enters the Gangneung Arts Center in Gangwon Province on Sunday to check the venues for its proposed art performances at next month's PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

By AsiaToday reporter Heo Go-woon

A North Korean preliminary inspection team led by Hyon Song-wol, head of North Korea's Samjiyon Orchestra, visited South Korea on Sunday to check the venues for its proposed art performances at next month's PyeongChang Winter Olympics. It's the first time that North Korean officials have visited South Korea since the launch of the Moon Jae-in administration in May last year, which can be seen as the beginning of the peaceful running of the upcoming Winter Olympics and the improvement of inter-Korean relations.

Earlier in the day, the seven-member delegation crossed the military demarcation line (MDL) and passed the customs, immigration, and quarantine (CIQ) office, becoming the first North Korean officials to travel to the South in around three years since the visit of Korean People's Army general political bureau chief Hwang Pyong-so, the Workers' Party secretary Choe Ryong-hae, and United Front Department director Kim Yang-gon during the Incheon Asian Games in October 2014. The Gyeongui Line that the delegation used to cross the land border restored its function as the road in nearly two years after it was blocked in the wake of the suspension of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in February 2016.

After having lunch at Seamarq Hotel (formerly Hyundai Hotel) in Gangneung, the inspection team visited both Hwang Young Cho Gymnasium and Gangneung Arts Center, which are considered as performance venues. When asked about her impression of the trip by a pool reporter of the Ministry of Unification press corps, Hyon just smiled and didn't give an answer. Her team stayed only 10 minutes at Hwang Young Cho Gymnasium but toured Gangneung Arts Center more than an hour, leaving it the strongest candidate site in Gangneung. The inspection team is expected to stay overnight at Gangneung before returning to Seoul to check another venue in Seoul on Monday. The Namsan City Theater and Jangchung Arena are considered as potential candidates.

The North Korean delegation's arrival came after the International Olympic Committee on Saturday approved 22 North Korean athletes and 24 officials to take part in the Olympics. The North Koreans will compete in five sports events, including women's ice hockey, figure skating, cross-country skiing and Alpine skiing. In particular, 12 women among the 22 athletes will join South Korea's female hockey team in the Korea's first-ever unified Olympic team. The North Korean athletes will also march together with South Korean players carrying a flag symbolizing a unified Korea during the opening and closing ceremonies in Pyeongchang. The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said the decision is "positive" and that it's "an important stepping stone to achieve the peaceful Olympics spirit."

This week, the two Koreas will dispatch their delegations in preparation of the Olympics. Seoul will dispatch a 12-member inspection team, led by the unification ministry's Lee Joo-tae, to inspect facilities at Mt Kumgang and Masikrong ski resort in North Korea for two nights and three days on January 23. The North also proposed the dispatch of a 8-member delegation, led by deputy director at Ministry of Physical Culture and Sports Yun Yong-bok, to South Korea between January 25 and 27.

#North Korea #Hyon Song-wol #Samjiyon Orchestra #inspection team #PyeongChang Olympics 
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