N. Korea to send top-level delegation to closing of Winter Games

The North's delegation will be led by Mr Kim Yong Chol, the man blamed for the 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors.
The North's delegation will be led by Mr Kim Yong Chol, the man blamed for the 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors.
North Korean cheerleaders in Pyeongchang on Tuesday.
North Korean cheerleaders in Pyeongchang on Tuesday.

Visit coincides with Ivanka Trump's trip to Pyeongchang with US delegation

SEOUL • North Korea will send a high-level delegation to South Korea for the Winter Olympics closing ceremony, officials said yesterday, including the man blamed for the 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors.

The latest visit by officials from the normally reclusive North will coincide with a visit by a United States delegation led by President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka.

The North Korean delegation will be led by Mr Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee, and will stay for three days from Sunday, South Korea's Ministry of Unification said in a statement.

Mr Kim also heads the United Front Department, the North Korean office responsible for handling inter-Korean affairs.

He was previously chief of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a top North Korean military intelligence agency which South Korea blamed for the deadly 2010 sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean navy corvette.

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung Gyon said the torpedo attack on the boat was carried out by the North, but the government had not been able to confirm exactly who was responsible. North Korea denied having anything to do with the sinking.

"Kim is in charge of South Korea affairs, which is why we are accepting him as we believe it would help improve inter-Korean relations and resolve the matter of denuclearisation," Mr Cho told Parliament.

The Winter Olympics in South Korea have given a big boost to engagement between the two Koreas after more than a year of sharply rising tensions over the North's missile tests and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

Ms Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, led a three-day visit to the opening of the Olympics, and the North Korean leader later said he wanted to boost a "warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue".

Some South Korean opposition legislators and conservative groups have questioned the amount South Korea spent on the North Korean delegation that attended the opening of the Games.

A South Korean government official said 240 million won (S$293,250) had been spent on Ms Kim and her entourage during their visit.

The money was mostly spent on accommodation, transportation and food for the four members of the delegation and their 18 staff members. The delegation stayed at the Walkerhill Hotel, a five-star riverside hotel in eastern Seoul.

Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae In said relations with the US are "rock solid" and "as strong and robust as ever", as his administration gears up for a possible summit with the North Korean leader.

Mr Moon's administration has faced questions from lawmakers over whether there have been any differences in opinion or policy between staunch allies South Korea and the US over efforts to engage North Korea to get it to abandon its missile and nuclear programmes.

"President Trump said that I could notify him at any time if help was needed in the process of carrying out inter-Korean dialogue, and that he supported me 100 per cent. My goal is to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue and solidify peace," Mr Moon told the magazine Monocle in an interview that was published yesterday.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2018, with the headline 'N. Korea to send top-level delegation to closing of Winter Games'. Print Edition | Subscribe