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NK ferry carrying art troupe arrives in S. Korea amid protests

The North Korean ferry Mangyongbong-92 carrying the 140-member Samjiyon art troupe arrived in South Korea at 5 p.m. on Seoul’s blessing to temporarily lift sanctions on the vessel. 
The North Korean ferry Mangyongbong-92 arrives in Mukho, a South Korean port, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
The North Korean ferry Mangyongbong-92 arrives in Mukho, a South Korean port, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
The ship crossed a de facto maritime border in the East Sea around 9:50 a.m., sailing at its maximum speed of 13 knots or about 24 kilometers per hour as it headed to Mukho port on the east coast, according to the Unification Ministry. Two South Korean Coast Guard vessels and two tugboats guided the ship into the port as it neared its destination.

Although South Korea’s unilateral sanctions ban North Korean ships from entering its waters, Seoul made an exemption for Mangyongbong-92 as part of an Olympic overture. The sanctions announced on May 24, 2010 were imposed in response to North Korea’s alleged sinking of a South Korean Navy corvette.

The ship was heavily guarded by South Korean Police after it docked at the port and the art troupe remained inside the ship. Some members of the art troupe could be seen looking outside the windows, but most windows were concealed by curtains.

Some conservative protesters burned a picture of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the North‘s flag as the ship arrived at the port, but police quickly intervened.
Members of South Korean conservative groups protest the entrance of a North Korean ferry into the Mukho port on Tuesday.   (Yonhap)
Members of South Korean conservative groups protest the entrance of a North Korean ferry into the Mukho port on Tuesday.   (Yonhap)
Angry protesters clash with police in the Mukho port on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Angry protesters clash with police in the Mukho port on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
The art troupe’s visit comes as the two Koreas have agreed to hold a series of special events leading up to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed willingness to send a delegation to the games in his New Year’s address.

The Samjiyon art troupe consisting of an orchestra, dancers and singers is slated to perform in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, a subhost city of the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games on Thursday and in Seoul on Sunday. Details of the performances largely remain in the dark, but the North said that South Korean songs will be integrated in the programs.

Hyon Song-wol, the leader of the all-female Moranbong Band, will head the Samjiyon art troupe. She was part of the delegation that visited the South last month to inspect prospective venues for the performances.

The art troupe reportedly left Pyongyang on Monday for the eastern port city of Wonsan to board the ferry bound for South Korea, according to North Korea’s state-run radio station.

A photo released by the North’s state news agency showed female members of the troupe wearing matching red coats and black fur hats at a train station in Pyongyang.
North Korea's art troupe members leave Pyongyang on Monday to visit South Korea via a ferry. (Yonhap)
North Korea's art troupe members leave Pyongyang on Monday to visit South Korea via a ferry. (Yonhap)

The group was greeted by senior party officials including Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, and Pak Kwang-ho, the director of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea’s propaganda and agitation department. According to an official at Seoul’s Unification Ministry, Kim Yo-jong is “a vice director at the WPK’s propaganda and agitation department,” which is the No. 3 post at the department.

A separate advance team overseeing technical aspects of the performances had arrived a day earlier via a western land route, a route that goes through the now-shuttered joint industrial complex in the border town of Kaesong in North Korea.

Mangyongbong-92 was expected to arrive and dock at the South’s Mukho port on the east coast at 5 p.m., according to Seoul. The ship is to serve as both a means of transportation and accommodation for the group

The 9,700-ton cargo-passenger ferry Mangyongbong-92 is named after a hill in Pyongyang near the birthplace of the North’s late founder Kim Il-sung. It transported the North’s cheering squad for the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, the South’s southern port city.

The ferry will be used as the art troupe’s accommodation when it holds the concert in Gangneung. The exact time the ferry will head back to the North or whether it will extend is stay is not yet clear.

The Unification Ministry said the Seoul government would provide food, fuel and electricity to the North Korean ship throughout the troupe’s stay.

“The South will offer the necessary conveniences (to the Mangyongbong-92) based on the precedent of the 2002 Busan Asian Games,” said the official.

It will be checked that US food ingredients are not included in meals to prevent a possible violation of US sanctions that ban the delivery of US goods and services to North Korea, added the official.

The official said that while the Mangyongbong-92 is not blacklisted by the US, Seoul has consulted with Washington to confirm that the ferry is not subject to Washington’s sanctions.


By Jung Min-kyung
(mkjung@heraldcorp.com)
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