N. Korean orchestra to play during Olympics in South

South Korean chief delegate Lee Woo Sung leading his team to the North Korean side of the border, in the truce village of Panmunjom, for a meeting on the Winter Olympics yesterday.
South Korean chief delegate Lee Woo Sung leading his team to the North Korean side of the border, in the truce village of Panmunjom, for a meeting on the Winter Olympics yesterday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Concerts in Seoul and Gangneung will be a first by a North Korean troupe since 2002

SEOUL • A 140-member North Korean orchestra will perform in South Korea during next month's Winter Olympics, amid a tentative rapprochement after months of tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

The North agreed last week to send athletes, high-level officials and others to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

The two sides agreed an artistic troupe would be part of the delegation, and four officials from each country met yesterday at the border truce village of Panmunjom to thrash out details of that visit.

The 140 members of the Samjiyon Orchestra will hold concerts in the capital Seoul and the eastern city of Gangneung close to Pyeongchang which is hosting the Games, said a joint statement after the talks.

"The South will ensure the safety and convenience of the North's performing squad to the utmost extent," it said, without giving the dates for the concerts.

A ministry official told Reuters the North asked that the troupe cross the border by foot via Panmunjom, located in the demilitarised zone where a North Korean soldier staged a daring defection to the South in November.

The concerts, if they go ahead, would mark the first time that a North Korean artistic troupe has performed in the capitalist South since 2002, during a previous rare period of rapprochement.

The two nations also agreed yesterday to hold talks at Panmunjom tomorrow on logistics and details for the visit by the North's athletes.

The Koreas are set to hold talks with the International Olympics Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Saturday over the number of the North's athletes.

The South Korean government and Olympic organisers have been keen for Pyongyang - which boycotted the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul - to take part in what they have been promoting as a "peace Olympics".

The North remained silent on the offer until its leader Kim Jong Un said in his New Year's speech that it could participate, a move seen as aimed at easing military tensions with the United States.

Tension has been high as the North staged a flurry of nuclear and missile tests since last year and Mr Kim traded threats of war and personal attacks with US President Donald Trump.

Mr Kim's declaration triggered a rapid series of moves, while Seoul touted talks last week - the first inter-Korean meeting in two years - as a potential first step to bringing the North into negotiations over its nuclear arsenal.

South Korean President Moon Jae In, who advocates dialogue with the North but remains critical of its weapons drive, last week said he was willing to have a summit with Mr Kim "under the right conditions". But he added that "certain outcomes must be guaranteed".

In a setback for such hopes, Pyongyang on Sunday slammed Mr Moon as "ignorant and unreasonable" for demanding preconditions - possibly a step towards denuclearisation - for a summit.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2018, with the headline 'N. Korean orchestra to play during Olympics in South'. Print Edition | Subscribe