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Koreas to discuss NK art performances at upcoming Olympics

The two Koreas will hold working-level talks Monday to hammer out key details concerning a North Korean art troupe’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics next month, the South’s Unification Ministry said Sunday.

The talks will be held at Tongilgak, situated at the Northern side of the truce village of Panmunjeom.

South Korea on Friday initially proposed talks covering a broader agenda, but the North said it wanted to first discuss matters related to its art troupe’s performance at the Winter Games.

“We have proposed to the North holding the talks at 10 a.m.,” a ministry official said Sunday. “The detailed schedule will likely be finalized today.” 

Hyon Song-wol, the leader of the Moranbong Band, who will join the inter-Korean talks on Monday is seen in the photo taken in Beijing in December 2015. (Yonhap)
Hyon Song-wol, the leader of the Moranbong Band, who will join the inter-Korean talks on Monday is seen in the photo taken in Beijing in December 2015. (Yonhap)

Monday’s talks are expected to be part of a series of talks between the South and North, leading up to and after the Winter Games. It follows the first high-level inter-Korean talks in more than two years on Jan. 9, where the North agreed to send high-ranking officials, athletes, cheerleaders, performing artists, taekwondo demonstration teams and journalists to the sporting event.

On Saturday, Pyongyang offered to send a delegation consisting of four arts officials, headed by Kwon Hyok-bong, the current director of the performing arts bureau at the Culture Ministry and former head of the North’s Unhasu Orchestra. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s wife Ri Sol-ju had reportedly performed for the band.

Hyon Song-wol, who is known as the leader of the all-female Moranbong Band, has been also chosen to be part of the delegation. 

But a day ahead of the meeting, North Korea notified South Korea of a change to its delegation. Yun Bom-ju, an orchestra director, has been replaced by An Jong-ho, a stage manager, without any explanation by the North, the South’s Unification Ministry said Sunday. 

The South Korean delegation will be led by Lee Woo-sung, head of the culture and arts policy office at the Culture Ministry, and other members include Korean Symphony Orchestra’s CEO Lee Won-choul, its artistic director Chong Chi-yong and Han Jong-wook, who heads an inter-Korean dialogue division under the Unification Ministry’s Office of Inter-Korean Dialogue.

As key officials from each nation’s top orchestras are to meet face-to-face, the possibility of a joint musical performance at PyeongChang has also been raised by the media here. 

Although the upcoming meeting is expected to focus on a narrow agenda, Seoul also called on Pyongyang to swiftly respond to its offer to hold a separate meeting on North Korea’s participation in the Olympics. Crucial issues, such as the route the North will take to cross the border, have not been discussed. 

Tongilgak, a North Korean building in Panmunjom. (Yonhap)
Tongilgak, a North Korean building in Panmunjom. (Yonhap)

The two neighboring countries will have to come up with a plan that does not violate international sanctions imposed on the North. Under its unilateral sanctions, South Korea has banned any ship that visited a port in the North from entering South Korea for one year, which rules out the choice of crossing the maritime border. The United States also blacklisted the North’s Air Koryo airline, clashing with the idea of traveling via air.

North Korea has also yet to respond to South Korea’s suggestion that the two Koreas jointly march during the opening ceremony, which has become a symbol of inter-Korean harmony through the years. Seoul officials said later that the two were getting closer to an agreement on a joint march.

Meanwhile, the North said the future of inter-Korean relations depends on South Korea’s efforts to create a mood of “reconciliation and unification” between the two countries, in an editorial published in its state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Sunday.

Closely following Monday’s meeting, separate South-North talks will take place on Jan. 20 at the International Olympics Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. The meeting organized by the IOC is expected to act as a platform to further fuel North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games.

Chang Ung, North Korea’s representative to the committee, told a group of reporters Saturday that the IOC is considering the option of creating a joint South-North women’s hockey team at the Winter Olympics. Chang was stopping by Beijing’s Capital International Airport on his way back to Pyongyang from a visit to the IOC in Switzerland.

By Jung Min-kyung (