N Korea delegates in South for pre-Olympics inspection
Seoul: North Korean delegates arrived in South Korea on Sunday to prepare for cultural performances during next month's Winter Olympics, in the first visit by Pyongyang officials to the South for four years.
Television footage showed seven officials led by Hyon Song-Wol, the leader of the North's popular Moranbong girl 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.
Hyon, a star singer and also the leader of the 140-member Samjiyon Orchestra chosen to visit the South, left the station in Gangneung without talking to throngs of journalists.
After months of high tensions over the North'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 in the South's ski resort of Pyeongchang on February 9. The International Olympic Committee had on Saturday endorsed the deal, saying the North would send 22 athletes in sports ranging from figure skating to short-track speed skating.
"It marks the opening of the door towards peaceful coexistence and peaceful cooperation forged through sports," Seoul's sports minister Do Jong-Hwan, who attended Saturday's meeting, told reporters on returning to Seoul. 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.
The South's government, facing mounting public criticism of the sporting rapprochement, defended it on Sunday as "an investment for a peaceful future".The orchestra led by Hyon will give two concerts -- one in the capital Seoul and another in Gangneung -- during the Olympics. Seoul will also send skiers to the North's Masikryong ski resort for joint training with N Korean counterparts, and hold a joint cultural event.