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North Korea’s late announcement it will send a large delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea has eased concerns over any Pyongyang threat during the games, but it does create headaches for planners over accommodations and security. The North announced its participation on Tuesday after the first inter-Korean talks in two years, soothing tensions for the time being that Pyongyang might test-fire another long-range missile. Its escalating series of missile tests over the past year has sparked talk of war on the divided peninsula. Behind the scenes, the logistics of bringing hundreds of North Korean officials, athletes, cheerleaders and artistic performers is a challenge for both sides, officials and analysts say. Besides the basics of securing transportation and other accommodations, South Korean officials are keen to ensure the Olympics go off without a hitch.
That also means preventing any controversy over the North Korean visitors, including protecting them from possible attacks by extremist South Korean groups.South Korea’s Unification Ministry said on Wednesday it hopes to hold working-level talks soon to sort out details of the visit. Ryu Se-yeong, head of Allami Korea, one of the private security firms hired for the Games, said he was concerned about the lack of lead time to prepare for additional security for North Koreans, the vehicles and places to house the visitors. “Some of the hotels are already fully booked. I am worried where to accommodate such a large number of North Korean people. It is not easy to secure decent accommodations near the stadiums,” Ryu said. South Korean police have started preparations based on past experiences, which can be updated once North Korea provides its detailed plans, an official from South Korea’s National Policy Agency said. With Pyongyang and Seoul hoping to use the Olympics to signify a thaw in inter-Korean relations, both governments share fears that a member of the delegation could try to defect. “The North will choose and send verified people from its core class,” said Kim Kwang-jin, a North Korean defector and researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy. “The North is also expected to divide its delegation into groups and ask them to monitor and control each other so that no one would leave the group,” he said. The Olympics would be a “good opportunity” for the North to sneak spies into the South, and contact other spies already operating in the neighbouring country, he added.