North Korea announced Friday it will take part in the 2014 Asian Games competition to be held in South Korea, despite heightened tensions between the archrivals.
In a short dispatch carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the North Korean Olympic Committee said it will participate in this year's quadrennial, multisport competition to be hosted by Incheon, a metropolitan city just west of Seoul.
"The DPRK Olympic Committee officially informed (the Olympic Council of Asia) of the decision and will soon make necessary applications according to the rules set by the Council and the organizing committee of the Games," the English-language statement read, referring to North Korea by the acronym of its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The Olympic Committee also added that the country is "guided by the idea of peace, unity and friendship."
The Asian Games will take place from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4. It will be the third Asiad held in South Korea, after the 1986 competition in Seoul and the 2002 edition in Busan, a southeastern port city.
North Korea didn't enter the 1986 Asiad but competed at the 2002 event.
Incheon organizers welcomed North Korea's decision to participate in their Asiad. Last week, the organizers said North Korea remained the only country among 45 OCA member states not to have registered for the Asian Games participation.
"Through our close coordination with the OCA, we confirmed the North Korean decision to take part (in the Asian Games)," the organizing committee for Incheon said in a statement. "We welcome the opportunity to host the perfect Asian Games with all 45 OCA members in action, which will contribute to peace in Asia and development of sports in the region."
Pyongyang has until June 20 to inform the local organizers of the size of its delegation. Incheon officials said North Korea informed the OCA that it will honor its deadline.
The North Korean decision comes amid lingering tensions on the peninsula. On Thursday, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North fired two artillery shells near a South Korean warship on patrol in the tensely guarded western sea border and that the South returned fire with several artillery rounds toward waters near a North Korean warship. No casualties were reported.
Earlier on Friday, the North denied launching shells toward the South Korean vessel and accused Seoul of making up the exchange.
Despite the North's repeated threats to take military action on the South, Incheon officials had long tried to secure North Korea's participation in the Asian Games, and had previously sought help from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the OCA to convince the reclusive communist regime to make the rare trip across the border.
In February, Pyongyang officials told South Korean journalists that North Korean athletes would compete in all events at the Asian Games. Several South Korean pool reporters were at the Mount Kumgang resort north of the border to cover reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
A month earlier, North Korea announced through the KCNA that its male and female football teams would compete in Incheon.
Last July, the North Korean women's football team competed at the East Asian Cup held in South Korea, and went on to win the tournament over South Korea, Japan and China.
It was the first trip to the South by the North Korean women's football squad since the 2005 East Asian Cup. The North Korean players mostly had warm reception from South Korean fans during the tournament, despite icy relations between their two governments.
In August, Pyongyang extended an invitation to South Korean weightlifters to compete at the 2013 Asian Cup and Interclub Weightlifting Championship in the North Korean capital. The North also approved the hoisting of the South Korean national flag and playing of its national anthem on the communist country's soil for the first time.
The Koreas competed as one nation at the 1991 FIFA World Youth Championship, and also at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships in Japan, where they won the women's team title. With inter-Korean ties having deteriorated in recent years, sports exchanges between the countries have virtually stopped.
They marched under a unified Korean flag at the opening ceremonies for the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics, and also at the 2006 Winter Olympics and the 2007 Asian Winter Games. They haven't organized a joint march at a multisport event since then.
North Korea also sent a delegation to the 2003 World University Games, commonly known as the Universiade, and South Korean officials have been trying to field a unified Korean delegation for the 2015 Universiade to be held in Gwangju, a metropolitan city about 330 kilometers south of Seoul.
The International University Sports Federation approved the South's proposal for a joint Korean squad last year. (Yonhap)