A North Korean delegation arrived in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, Sunday to check out venues for its proposed art performances at next month‘s PyeongChang Winter Games.
The trip came amid brisk inter-Korean cooperation on the North’s participation in the Olympic Games to open in three weeks.
The seven-member team is led by Hyon Song-wol, head of the North‘s Samjiyon Orchestra, and known as one of the most influential women in the secretive communist nation.
She also serves as director of the Moranbong Band, the country’s well-known all-female musical group that was reportedly created at the order of leader Kim Jong-un.
North Korean delegation visits Gangneung Art Center (Yonhap)
Hyon, wearing a dark coat and fur scarf, arrived at Seoul Station at 10:22 a.m. and boarded a KTX bullet train bound for Gangneung, 260 kilometers east of the capital.
It took about two hours for the North Koreans to reach Gangneung, the first leg of their two-day, two-stop visit.
They plan to inspect the stage, audio system and other conditions for the upcoming performance, discussing its schedule and program.
In Gangneung, the North Koreans will likely tour the Gangneung Arts Center and visit another candidate site in Seoul on Monday.
North Korean delegation arrives in Gangneung (Yonhap)
Earlier in the day, the North‘s delegation crossed the land border via the Gyeongui Line, becoming the first North Koreans to travel to the South since the launch of the Moon Jae-in administration in May last year. It’s also the first time the inter-Korean route has been used since the shutdown of the Kaesong industrial park in early 2016.
The North Korean delegation’s arrival came a day later than originally planned by the two Koreas. In the high-level talks on Jan. 15, the North had agreed to send the delegation Saturday, and confirmed the plans at 10 a.m. Friday.
However, at about 10 p.m. on Friday, the North informed the South that the delegation would not be sent, without elaborating.
South Korea’s Ministry of Unification on Saturday requested an explanation, and informed the North that Seoul intends to follow the plans agreed to in the high-level talks.
Hyun Song-wol travels to Gangneung on KTX train (Yonhap)
The North responded later in the day that the delegation would be sent Sunday on a revised two-day schedule. Pyongyang is said to have provided no explanation about Saturday’s developments
The two Koreas will exchange visits of working-level officials later this week to continue consultations on issues related to the North‘s participation in the Olympics and the ensuing Paralympics.
A dozen South Korean officials are scheduled to make a three-day visit starting Tuesday to the Kumgangsan mountain area and Masikryong Ski Resort in the North’s eastern area.
The North accepted the South‘s offer to send the advance team as part of its plan to stage a joint cultural event in the Kumgangsan region, according to the Ministry of Unification. Their skiers will train together at the ski compound as well.
Gangneung Art Center (Yonhap)
The North also informed the South of a plan to dispatch an eight-member delegation, led by a deputy director general at its Sports Ministry, Thursday, it added.
The North’s team hopes to look around Olympic facilities, such as stadiums, lodgings and the press center.
By Choi He-suk and news reports (firstname.lastname@example.org