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N Korea attack fears an 'exaggeration', says Games chief

AFP  |  Pyeongchang 

With little more than 100 days to go before the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, chief organiser Lee Hee-Beom has dismissed fears of a potential attack by the nuclear-armed North as an "exaggeration".

Several countries have expressed concerns about the Pyeongchang Games, which will take place in February just 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which divides the Korean peninsula.

North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test in September -- by far its most powerful yet -- and has lobbed missiles over Japan into the Pacific, while trading insults and threats of war with Washington.

But Games chief Lee Hee-Beom told AFP that worries about a possible attack on Pyeongchang were overblown, and although contingency plans are in place, he does not believe they will be needed.

"Korea was not divided yesterday, Korea was divided since 1945," the president of the Pyeongchang Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (POCOG) said in an interview.

The South has held several "very safe and secure sports events", he said. "Pyeongchang is not the exception," he added, calling fears of an attack "a kind of exaggeration".

France, Germany and Austria have raised concerns over the safety of their athletes during the Games, while Britain has drawn up evacuation plans in case of an emergency.

The International Olympic Committee moved to quash speculation that the event could be cancelled or moved by pledging its "full support" to the Games at a summit last week.

- Wild card -

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Lee pointed to previous major sporting events in the country, such as the 1988 Seoul summer Olympics and the 2002 World Cup, that passed off without a hitch -- the latter despite a clash between the navies of North and South off the island of Yeonpyeong.

The United Nations will also pass an Olympic truce resolution in November calling for a cessation of conflicts before and during the Games, he added.

Pyongyang has been defying UN resolutions against its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes for years, but Lee said this situation was "quite different".

"North Korea violated resolutions against one country but if they do anything it's a violation against all the world," he said.

Lee spoke to AFP in his office in Pyeongchang before flying to Greece to collect the Olympic flame, kindled from the sun's rays at the ancient temple of Hera in Olympia.

The flame will arrive in South Korea on Wednesday -- 100 days before the opening ceremony -- before being taken on a 2,018-kilometre relay through the country, avoiding both North Korea and the DMZ truce village of Panmunjom.

Whether the North will participate in the Games in Pyeongchang, a largely rural area of rolling hills dotted with wind farms, remains open to question.

It boycotted the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and officials in Pyongyang have told AFP that no final decision has been made.

Two North Korean figure skaters are so far the only athletes from the country to qualify for the Games, and while others could do so in cross-country and short-track competitions running until January, their prospects are believed to be poor.

As a result, Lee said, the IOC will consult with international sporting federations over wild card entries to enable more North Koreans to take part.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Tue, October 31 2017. 16:22 IST
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