The two Koreas agreed to hold a meeting Thursday to discuss the North’s plans to dispatch a group of athletes and cheerleaders to the forthcoming Asian Games in Incheon, South Korean officials said Monday.
Three officials from each side will gather at Freedom House on the southern part of the truce village of Panmunjeom. The South’s delegation is to be led by Kwon Kyung-sang, secretary-general of the event’s steering committee.
Last Thursday Pyongyang offered working-level talks on Tuesday via a cross-border telephone line. Seoul on Friday requested a change of the date.
“The North gave consent to our proposal this morning,” Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do said in a news briefing. “We will prepare for the meeting in close consultation with the organizing committee.”
In a rare instance of cross-border cooperation, the North last week released its plans to send a cheering squad to the quadrennial event, which will kick off on Sept. 19 for a two-week run. In May it announced that it would send 150 athletes to the competition.
During the upcoming negotiations, the sides are expected to wrestle over whether Seoul would provide support for the North Korean team’s lodging, transportation and other accommodations here.
The ministry appeared to be on the fence, though last week it presented basic principles that any participating country should bear its own expenses, pointing to a “different” standing of the current inter-Korean relations compared with the past.
“It will be the right thing to listen first to what the North Koreans have to say,” Kim added. “It’s not appropriate for us to say yes or no when the North has not yet even made any request.”
With Pyongyang planning on a “big scale” cheering brigade, observers say it could have as many as 300 members.
The communist country sent a group of some 300 female students to the 2002 Asian Games in Busan and the 2003 Summer Universiade in Daegu. In the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon, 124 cheerleaders took part, including Ri Sol-ju, the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The Kim regime has been stepping up its peace offensive in recent weeks. But the South remains aloof as the North continues to escalate tension on the other side such as by test-firing short-range missiles into the sea.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)