North and South Korea to march under unified flag at Winter Olympics

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After intense negotiations, the two Koreas announced on Wednesday that they will make a joint entrance at next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Following a meeting in the truce village of Panmunjom, the latest in a string of recent talks between the two nations, Yonhap news agency reported that the countries will also send a united women’s ice hockey team to the Games. The plan is still subject to approval by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Read more – Korean War allies consider further sanctions against North Korea

It has also emerged that a North Korean delegation will visit the South next week to take a look at facilities for the Games, which begin on February 9. Furthermore, South Korea will send some of its athletes to Masikryong, a ski resort in the North.

Last week, Pyongyang agreed to send athletes, officials and various performers to the Winter Olympics south of the border. The Pyeongchang Games are to take place just 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides the nations.

Head of the North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon, center, arrives for talks in Panmunjom (picture-alliance/AP Photo/Yonhap/Korea Pool)

Head of the North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon, center, arrives for talks in Panmunjom

The news will likely come as a boost to South Korea, with Seoul having sought to label the event a “peace Olympics” despite escalating tension over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which has led to several UN Security Council sanctions.

Both North and South Korea will now discuss their decision with the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland on Saturday. The IOC must approve extra slots at the Games for athletes from the North after they failed to qualify or missed registration deadlines.

Should approval be granted, South Korean media suggest that about 10 North Korean athletes will travel to the Games. They will be part of a wider delegation of more than 400, including 230 cheerleaders, 140 artists and 30 Taekwondo players, a joint press statement released by Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.

Since talk of the united ice hockey team was floated it has drawn criticism, particularly from athletes and coaches in the South. They raised the problematic issue of the players who will have to sacrifice their Olympic chance for their contemporaries from the North.

South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, has expressed his support for the united ice hockey team and the countries marching together while, before the talks, the North’s chief delegate, Jon Jong-Su, said he “hopes that ties can open” between the countries.

However, not everyone has greeted the news so positively. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said the world should not be naive about North Korea’s “charm offensive” over the Olympics.

“It is not the time to ease pressure, or to reward North Korea,” Kono said. “The fact that North Korea is engaging in dialogue could be interpreted as proof that the sanctions are working.”

mp/kl (AFP, DPA, Reuters)