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N Korea offers to attend Olympics in talks with South

AFP  |  Seoul 

offered to send athletes and a high-level delegation to the forthcoming in the South as the rivals held their first official talks today in more than two years after months of tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.

urged that reunions of families divided by the 1950-53 Korean War -- one of the most emotive legacies of the conflict -- be held at the same time as the Games.

The talks were held in Panmunjom, the truce village in the Demilitarized Zone that splits the peninsula, with the North's group walking over the Military Demarcation Line to the Peace House venue on the southern side -- just yards from where a defector ran across in a hail of bullets two months ago.

Looking businesslike, the South's Cho Myoung-Gyon and the North's shook hands at the entrance to the building, and again across the table.

In accordance with standard practice in the North, Ri wore a badge on his left lapel bearing an image of the country's founding father and his son and successor Cho also wore a lapel badge, depicting the South Korean flag.

As well as its athletes, the North proposed sending a high-level delegation, supporters, art performers and a taekwondo demonstration team to the Games, the South's vice unification minster told journalists.

suggested the two sides march together at the opening ceremony, he added, and called for the resumption of family reunions, as well as talks and military discussions to prevent "accidental clashes".

"Let's present the people with a precious new year's gift," said the North's Ri. "There is a saying that a journey taken by two lasts longer than the one travelled alone."

The atmosphere was friendlier than at past meetings, and Cho told him that believed "guests from the North are going to join many others from all around the world" at the

"The people have a strong desire to see the North and South move toward peace and reconciliation," he added.

It was a radically different tone from the rhetoric of recent months, which have seen the North's and trade personal insults and threats of war, while has launched missiles capable of reaching the mainland and carried out its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date.

Seoul has been keen to proclaim the Games in Pyeongchang, just 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the DMZ, a "peace Olympics" but it needs to attend to make the description meaningful.

Kim indicated in his New Year's speech that the North could take part in the Games and Seoul responded with an offer of high-level dialogue. Last week the hotline between the neighbours was restored after being suspended for almost two years.

Issues still to be settled include the question of joint entrances to the opening and closing ceremonies, the size of the delegation and their accommodation -- widely expected to be paid for by Seoul -- as well as any linked discussions.

The North so far has only two qualified for the Games, but hundreds of young, female North Korean cheerleaders have created a buzz at three previous international sporting events in the South.

The group may stay on a cruise ship in Sokcho, about an hour's drive from the Olympic venue, which would enable their movements to be closely monitored and controlled.

A high-level delegation accompanying the team could include Kim's younger sister Yo-Jong, who is a of the ruling Workers' Party, according to South Korean reports.

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

First Published: Tue, January 09 2018. 11:15 IST