North Korea offers to send advance team for Olympic art performance

The advance team will be led by Hyon Song Wol, leader of the all-female Moranbong Band.
The advance team will be led by Hyon Song Wol, leader of the all-female Moranbong Band.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL - North Korea informed South Korea on Friday (Jan 19) that it will send an advance team over the weekend for a trip by its art troupe to South Korea during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, Seoul officials said, Yonhap news agency reported.

According to the South's unification ministry, Pyongyang said it will send a seven-member team Saturday (Jan 20) to check the venues for its proposed art performances in Seoul and Gangneung, a city in Gangwon province, located some 260km east of the capital.

The delegation will be led by Hyon Song Wol, leader of the all-female Moranbong Band, the ministry added.

The band, which was created by an order of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in July 2012, features Western-style music and outfits.

The advance team will enter the South overland on Saturday and return on Sunday, the ministry added.

In working-level talks with the South held Monday, North Korea agreed to send a 140-member art troupe, consisting of an orchestra, singers and dancers, for concerts in the South. Hyon attended the inter-Korean dialogue held Monday as North Korea's vice chief delegate.

The art performances, if held, would mark the first North Korean performances in South Korea since 2002, when Pyongyang sent a cohort of 30 singers and dancers from several music and performance groups to Seoul for a joint event, Yonhap said.

The art troupe will be part of a North Korean delegation to the Olympics that will also include athletes and high-ranking officials. The games are slated to be held from Feb 9 to 25.

A series of inter-Korean talks came after Kim Jong Un extended a rare rapprochement to Seoul in his New Year's Day speech following years of nuclear and missile provocations, Yonhap added.

The flurry of talks and planning comes amid reports that North Korea could be preparing a lavish display of its military strength on the eve of the Games.

Yonhap news agency, quoting an unidentified government official, said  on  Thursday that some 12,000 soldiers were rehearsing with artillery pieces and other weapons at an airfield near Pyongyang.

They could stage a military parade in the capital to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the North’s regular army on Feb  8, a day before the Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony, it added.

But the North’s parades involve tens of thousands of people and take months to prepare, while Pyongyang is bitterly cold in February.

Analysts point out that satellite pictures of the airfield preparations appear to show far less activity than ahead of previous major displays.

“It would look bizarre to have a military parade in Pyongyang, just a day before the opening of what the South has declared a ‘Peace Olympics’”, Ahn Chan Il, an analyst at the World Institute for North Korea Studies, told Agence France-Presse.

“But this fits the North’s usual claim that it is prepared for both peace and a war”, he added.The ministry said the team will stay for two days, adding that it will respond to the North's proposal after consideration.