SEOUL • The two Koreas yesterday agreed to form a united women's ice hockey team for next month's Winter Olympics and march together under a pro-unification flag at the opening ceremony.
It will be the first inter-Korean joint march at the opening ceremony of an international sports competition in 11 years.
Following a working-level meeting held at the truce village of Panmunjom yesterday, both sides also agreed to hold a joint cultural event at Mount Kumgang, a scenic resort in the North .
A North Korean delegation will visit the South next week to review the facilities at the Games venue, Yonhap news agency reported.
South Korea also agreed to send its athletes to the North's Masikryong ski resort for training ahead of the Feb 9 to 25 Games.
The North's 550-member delegation comprises 230 cheerleaders, a 30-strong taekwondo delegation, a 150-member delegation for the Paralympics and a 140-member art troupe. They will travel by land through Kaesong, which lies on the main road from Pyongyang to Seoul.
Seoul has long sought to proclaim the event a "peace Olympics" in the face of tensions over the North's weapons programmes, and the discussions represent a marked improvement in inter-Korean ties.
Critics have slammed Seoul's proposal to field a unified team in women's ice hockey, accusing the government of robbing some of its ice hockey players of the opportunity to compete at the Olympics for the sake of political purposes.
Tens of thousands have signed dozens of online petitions on the President's website urging leader Moon Jae In to scrap the plan. "Our players trained so hard for years to compete at the Olympics... and a joint team with the North would render such efforts a waste for many of them," stated one of the petitions.
South Korea team coach Sarah Murray said her players would suffer as a result of any such move. "I am kind of shocked this happened so close to the Olympics," she said, adding that team chemistry would suffer. South Korea qualified for the ice hockey tournament only as hosts, rather than on merit, and are not seen as medal contenders.
The two Koreas will discuss the results of their talks with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Saturday. The IOC must approve extra Olympic slots for the North's athletes after they failed to qualify or missed deadlines to register.
The series of talks comes after the North's leader Kim Jong Un abruptly announced his willingness to take part in the upcoming Games in his New Year speech.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS