SEOUL • With their looks and sharp moves, North Korea's female cheerleaders are a marked contrast to the regime's menacing nuclear ambitions.
Dubbed the "army of beauties" in South Korea, the young North Korean women, mostly in their late teens or early 20s, have attracted huge publicity whenever they have been sent to the South. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's wife Ri Sol Ju was among the group who attended the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon.
The cheerleaders are set for their fourth appearance in the South after Pyongyang agreed this week to send a delegation to next month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
North Korean delegations to its neighbour are chosen carefully by Pyongyang and their movements are tightly controlled in the South.
Dr An Chan Il, a defector who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies, said the cheerleaders are cherry-picked by the regime based on tough criteria.
"They must be more than 163cm tall and come from good families," said Dr An. "Those who play an instrument are from a band and others are mostly students at the elite Kim Il Sung University."
The cheerleaders made their first appearance at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, with nearly 300 of them arriving on a ferry waving so-called unification flags.
They have always been a major ticket draw and their attendance is good news for the Pyeongchang Games organisers.
"It will help with ticket sales," said Pyeongchang Organising Committee spokesman Sung Baik You. "It will fulfil our desires for a peace Olympics."