North Korea on Thursday proposed holding working-level talks with South Korea next week to discuss issues related to its dispatch of athletes and a cheering squad for the upcoming Asian Games in South Korea.
North Korea suggested holding the talks in the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom next Tuesday to discuss the matters stemming from its plans to send athletes and the cheering delegation to this year's Asian Games, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The proposal came four days after the North said it will send a cheering squad to the Asiad, slated for Sept. 19-Oct. 4, to be held in Incheon, South Korea's second-largest port city. It added that the move is aimed at improving cross-border relations and showing Pyongyang's commitment to unification.
"The North proposed the talks via contact channels at the truce village earlier in the day," said an official at the Seoul government. "The government plans to unveil its stance as soon as it is set."
Pyongyang did not elaborate on what those issues were, but observers here said that they might indicate means of transportation or costs of accommodation and others for the North's players and the cheering squad.
The North's upcoming move would mark its first dispatch of a cheering squad to a South Korea-hosted international sports event in nine years since the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships, also held in Incheon, when it sent a contingent.
A total of three North Korean cheering squads have been dispatched to international sports events held in South Korea, including the Busan Asian Games in 2002.
The cheering team may be larger than expected and to reach over 200 as the North said it will send a large squad to the games, observers say.
The North dispatched the cheering squad with around 300 attractive women in their early- to mid-20s in 2002 and 2003, but it reduced the number of the cheering team to 124 for the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon.
Ri Sol-ju, the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, visited the South in 2005 as part of a cheering squad for the athletic event, according to Seoul officials.
Inter-Korean relations have been chilled as North Korea has not given up on its nuclear ambitions and missile launches, raising tensions in the region.
On July 1, North Korea proposed that the two Koreas suspend all military hostilities, including joint South Korea-U.S. military drills, and stop slandering each other. A day later, Seoul turned it down, saying that Pyongyang must first show its commitment to ending its nuclear weapons program. (Yonhap)