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North Korean Orchestra Will Perform at Pyeongchang Winter Olympics

North Korean Orchestra Will Perform at Pyeongchang Winter Olympics

Monday, 15 January, 2018 - 13:30
In a photo taken on January 10, 2018 members of the South Korean air force Black Eagle aerobatic team perform above the venues of the 2018 Winter Olympics, in Pyeongchang. (AFP)

North Korea will dispatch to next month’s Winter Olympics hosted by the South a 140-member orchestra, announced the two neighbors on Monday.


The two Koreas met Monday for the second time in a week as they try to hammer out details for the North's participation in the Games, which the South sees as a way to calm tensions caused by Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests.


The 140 members of the Samjiyon Orchestra will hold concerts in the capital Seoul and the eastern city of Gangneung close to Pyeongchang which is hosting the Games, said a joint statement after the talks.


"The South will ensure the safety and convenience of the North's performing squad to the utmost extent," it said, without elaborating on the dates for the concerts.


The concerts, if they go ahead, would mark the first time that a North Korean artistic troupe has performed in the capitalist South since 2002, during a previous rare period of rapprochement.


Pyongyang agreed last week to send athletes, high-level officials and others to Pyeongchang.


The two sides agreed an artistic troupe would be part of the delegation, and four officials from each country met Monday at the border truce village of Panmunjom to thrash out details of that visit.


The North's then-leader Kim Jong-Il sent dozens of state singers, dancers and musicians to Seoul to perform at a political event when South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung, known for his reconciliation policy, was in office.


The North's delegates at Monday's meeting included Hyon Song-Wol, the leader of Pyongyang's famed all-female Moranbong music band, raising expectations the band would perform in the South.


Monday's joint statement however did not mention it.


The Koreas are set to hold talks with the International Olympics Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Saturday over the number of the North's athletes.


Separately, South Korean Sports Ministry spokesman Hwang Seong Un said that the two Koreas have agreed in principle to field a joint women's ice hockey team. The proposal requires International Olympic Committee approval. If realized, it would be the Koreas' first unified Olympic team ever.


The two sides agreed Monday to meet again at their border on Wednesday for working-level talks ahead of the IOC meeting.


The North has said its delegation to the February 9-25 Games in Pyeongchang would include an art troupe along with officials, athletes, cheerleaders, journalists and a taekwondo demonstration team.


The reasons for North Korea's softer approach are not clear, though some analysts say the North may be trying to divide Seoul and Washington as a way to weaken pressure and sanctions on the country. North Korea carried out nuclear and missile tests last year that triggered harsher UN sanctions and worldwide condemnation.


Others speculate the North wants to use the Olympics to show it's a normal country despite possessing nuclear weapons.


The South Korean government and Olympic organizers have been keen for Pyongyang -- which boycotted the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul -- to take part in what they have been promoting as a "peace Olympics".


The North remained silent on the offer until current leader Kim Jong-Un said in his New Year's speech that it could participate, a move seen as aimed at easing military tensions with the US.


South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who advocates dialogue with the North but remains critical of Pyongyang's weapons drive, said last week he was willing to have a summit with Kim "under the right conditions", but added that "certain outcomes must be guaranteed".


In a setback for such hopes, Pyongyang on Sunday slammed Moon as "ignorant and unreasonable" for demanding preconditions -- possibly a step towards denuclearization -- for a summit.


"The south Korean chief executive should not be dreaming," the state-run KCNA news agency said in an editorial, accusing Moon of "brown-nosing" the United States.


KCNA added that the North could still change its mind about taking part in the Olympics. "They should know that train and bus carrying our delegation to the Olympics are still in Pyongyang," it said.


A spokesman for Seoul's unification ministry played down the editorial, attributing it to "internal reasons and circumstances".


But on Monday, a senior North Korean journalist warned the South's media against criticizing Pyongyang


"Tongue may bring calamity and miswritten pen may become a sword beheading oneself," Kim Chol Guk said in an essay published by KCNA.


"The South Korean authorities may find the wedding ceremony turning into a mourning ceremony if they fail to hold tight control of media and of their own tongue."


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