South Korea has decided to allow a group of North Koreans to visit the southern city of Gwangju this week to attend a United Nations event for international youths, the unification ministry said Monday.
The decision came amid signs of a thaw in relations between the two Koreas after months of high tensions earlier this year. Last week, the two sides reached a breakthrough deal to reopen a joint industrial complex. They are also scheduled to hold talks this week on setting up family reunions.
Earlier this month, the U.N. Office on Sport for Development and Peace received a notification that a group of four North Koreans -- three young people and one adult leading the group -- expressed a desire to take part in the Youth Leadership Program (YLP). The office forwarded the request to the 2015 Gwangju Universiade Organizing Committee, which in turn submitted it to the Ministry of Unification.
"The government today approved the North Korean adolescents' visit to South Korea for their participation in the YLP," the ministry said in a statement.
The gathering, co-hosted by the Gwangju Committee and the U.N. office, is to take place in Gwangju, some 330 kilometers south of Seoul, from Thursday through Sept. 3. "The North Korean adolescents are scheduled to arrive here on Wednesday via a flight connecting Beijing to Incheon, the main gate way here, and to return home on Sept. 4," the ministry added.
The U.N. event aims to educate adolescents from war-stricken countries or developing regions in such fields as health, education, disability, gender equality and peace. It first took place last year, and the Gwangju city will host the annual gathering by 2015.
This year's event is expected to bring some 34 young people from 19 Asian countries, including the three from Pyongyang.
"It is an international event, and the inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation in the non-political field can help build trust between the two Koreas," unification ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said, explaining the reason for the approval.
"The North Korean adolescents' visit here to participate in the YLP program would serve as a key momentum for the inter-Korean relations and for creating world peace through sports," Gwangju Mayor Kang Un-tae said during the press conference held in his city.
Following the North's sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in 2010 that killed 46 sailors here, Seoul has restricted most inter-Korean personal exchange but has not objected to exchanges carried out by an international organization. (Yonhap News)