North Korean delegates visit South for pre-Olympics venue checks

Ms Hyon Song Wol (centre), leader of North Korea's popular all-female Moranbong Band, arriving at Seoul station yesterday. The delegation she led - to prepare for cultural performances during next month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang - was slated t
Ms Hyon Song Wol (centre), leader of North Korea's popular all-female Moranbong Band, arriving at Seoul station yesterday. The delegation she led - to prepare for cultural performances during next month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang - was slated to inspect venues in Gangneung yesterday and those in Seoul today before returning to the North the same day.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEOUL • North Korean delegates arrived in South Korea yesterday to prepare for cultural performances during next month's Winter Olympics, in the first visit by Pyongyang officials to the South in four years.

Television footage showed seven officials led by Ms Hyon Song Wol, leader of the North's popular all-female Moranbong Band, crossing the heavily fortified border by bus before arriving at Seoul train station about an hour later.

The stony-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.

Ms Hyon, a star singer and also leader of the 140-member Samjiyon Orchestra chosen to visit South Korea, left the station in Gangneung without talking to throngs of journalists.

After months of high tension over North Korea's missile and nuclear tests, the neighbours agreed this month that North Korean athletes, cheerleaders, artistic troupes and other delegates would attend the Games beginning on Feb 9 in the South's ski resort of Pyeongchang.

The International Olympic Committee last Saturday endorsed the agreement, saying North Korea would send 22 athletes in sports ranging from figure skating to short-track speed skating.

The two nations also agreed to march together at the opening ceremony under a unification flag - a pale blue silhouette of the Korean peninsula - and to form a joint women's ice hockey team.

South Korea's government, facing mounting public criticism of the sporting rapprochement, yesterday defended it as "an investment for a peaceful future".

The orchestra led by Ms Hyon will give two concerts - one in the capital Seoul and the other in Gangneung - during the Games.

Seoul will send skiers to the North's Masikryong Ski Resort for joint training with their North Korean counterparts, as well as hold a joint cultural event in the scenic Mount Kumgang area north of the border.

The delegation led by Ms Hyon was slated to inspect venues in Gangneung yesterday and those in Seoul today before returning to the North the same day.

Another team will visit South Korea this week to check the logistics for North Korean athletes, while Seoul will send its own officials to North Korea's ski resort to inspect the venue.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2018, with the headline 'N. Korean delegates visit South for pre-Olympics venue checks'. Print Edition | Subscribe