SEOUL (Reuters) – A delegation of North Korean officials and ice hockey players crossed the heavily guarded border into South Korea on Thursday for joint training of the Olympic Games, while Pyongyang asked all Koreans to seek unification of the two nations.
The delegation included 12 North Korean players who will form a combined women's ice hockey team with their southern counterparts at next month's Winter Olympics in the South Korean mountain resort of Pyeongchang.
According to an agreement drawn up during the first official talks between the two Koreas in two years, the joint team will wear unitary jerseys and march under a flag of the unified peninsula at the opening ceremony of the Games on February 9.
On Thursday, North Korea sent a rare ad aimed at "all Koreans at home and abroad," saying they should make a "breakthrough" for unification without the help of other countries, state media said. .
All Koreans should "promote contact, travel, cooperation between North Korea and South Korea" and, at the same time, add that Pyongyang will "crush" all the challenges against the reunification of the Korean peninsula.
The announcement, issued after a joint meeting of government and political parties, added that Koreans should try to alleviate military tensions and create a peaceful climate on the Korean peninsula.
North Korea and South Korea remain technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty. Tensions intensified dramatically last year when the Kim Jong Un regime intensified its program aimed at developing a missile capable of striking the United States with a nuclear warhead.
PEACE OR PROPAGANDA?
Some politicians and South Korean opposition conservatives criticized Pyongyang's participation in the Pyeongchang Games, saying that Kim was using North Korea's participation for its own purposes.
Many other South Korea welcomed North participation, but complained that the unified women's ice hockey team – the only joint team that had been formed – was unfair to the players.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence plans to use his attendance at the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month to try to counter what he considers Kim's efforts to "hijack" the games with a propaganda campaign, an official said on Tuesday. of the White House.
Washington has been pushing for tougher sanctions against North Korea in isolation and on Wednesday imposed new sanctions on nine entities, 16 people and six North Korean ships accused of helping with weapons programs. He also urged China and Russia, North Korea's main allies, to expel the North Koreans who raise funds for the programs.
The South Korean government has rejected criticism that the games had been hijacked by North Korea, saying the event will help defuse tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile program.
Military tension on the Korean peninsula was a "fundamental obstacle" to the improvement of inter-Korean relations and unification, the official news agency of the North said in its statement on Thursday.
He added joint military exercises with "external forces" that have proven to be useless for the development of relations between North Korea and South Korea.
South Korea successfully lobbied the United States to delay large-scale annual drills involving troops from the two countries until after the Olympics, but Washington officials have rejected the idea of a permanent high to the exercises in exchange for North Korea freeze their missile and nuclear weapons tests.
Additional reporting by Yuna Park and Haejin Choi; Written by Josh Smith; Edition by Lincoln Feast