N. Korean athletes arrive in South for Winter Olympics


(AFP): North Korean skiers and skaters arrived in the South today to take part in the Pyeongchang Winter Games, setting the stage for a “peace Olympics” after a year of high tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

Eight days before the opening ceremony, the 10 athletes were among a delegation that landed in Gangneung, on South Korea’s east coast, after a rare direct flight between the two halves of the divided peninsula  for which a special exemption had to be sought from US sanctions.

In black fur hats, they made their way through the terminal and onto buses without saying a word to a pursuing pack of reporters, while well-wishers outside held up banners depicting reunification flags a blue Korean peninsula on a white background.

“We are one,” read one of the banners.

In the past year tensions reached fever pitch as Pyongyang carried out a series of weapons tests including intercontinental ballistic missiles that brought the US mainland into range, and its most powerful nuclear blast to date while Kim and US President Donald Trump traded personal insults and threats of war.

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But the Games have triggered a sudden apparent rapprochement between the two Koreas.

For months, the North ignored repeated entreaties from Seoul for it to take part in a “peace Olympics”, letting deadlines for registration slip by.

But in his New Year speech Kim finally expressed a willingness to send a delegation to Pyeongchang, setting a flurry of talks and visits in motion.

The two Koreas in January held their first high-level talks for two years at Panmunjom, the truce village in the Demilitarized Zone that splits the peninsula.

Pyongyang agreed to send athletes, cheerleaders, officials and an art troupe to the South, and both sides decided to march together under the unification flag at the opening ceremony, and form a joint women’s ice hockey team.

Thursday’s arrivals three cross-country skiers, three alpine skiers, two short-track speed skaters and two figure skaters will compete for the North.

They followed a dozen North Korean female ice hockey players who arrived last week and have been training with their Southern counterparts for what will be the first unified team in 27 years.

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