NORTH KOREA TO AT­TEND OLYMPICS IN SOUTH KOREA AS TEN­SIONS EASE

Millennium Post - - FRONT PAGE -

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

Seoul 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 Uni­fi­ca­tion min­is­ter Cho My­oungGyon and the North's chief del­e­gate Ri Son-gwon 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 Kim Il-sung and his son and suc­ces­sor Kim Jong-il. 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 Chun Hae-sung told jour­nal­ists.

Seoul sug­gested the two sides march to­gether at the open­ing cer­e­mony, he added, and called for the re­sump­tion of fam­ily re­unions, as well as Red Cross 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 Seoul be­lieved “guests from the North are go­ing to join many oth­ers from all around the world” at the Olympics.

“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 leader Kim Jong-un and US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump trade per­sonal in­sults and threats of war, while Py­ongyang has launched mis­siles ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the US 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 Py­ongyang 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 win­ter sports ath­letes 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 se­nior mem­ber of the rul­ing Work­ers' Party, ac­cord­ing to South Korean re­ports. BEI­JING: China on Tues­day de­nied as “un­nec­es­sary” spec­u­la­tion re­ports that it was plan­ning to build a mil­i­tary base at Ji­wani in Pak­istan's Balochis­tan prov­ince close to the strate­gic Chaba­har port, which is be­ing jointly de­vel­oped by In­dia, Iran and Afghanistan.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, Pak­istan may al­low China to build the mil­i­tary base in Ji­wani which is also close the Gwadar port be­ing de­vel­oped by Bei­jing.

The Global Times quoted a Wash­ing­ton Times re­port that China is in talks with Pak­istan to build its se­cond over­seas mil­i­tary base as part of a push for greater mar­itime ca­pa­bil­i­ties along strate­gic sea routes.

“I am not aware of what you men­tioned,” Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry spokesman Lu Kang told the me­dia when asked to com­ment on the re­port. The me­dia in China and abroad said that Pak­istan of­fered the key lo­ca­tion to China as a re­tal­i­a­tion to US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump s New Year Day crit­i­cism of Is­lam­abad for not crack­ing down on ter­ror­ist safe havens in the coun­try.

The Chi­nese me­dia has been spec­u­lat­ing that Trump's ef­forts to step up pres­sure on Pak­istan may move it closer to Is­lam­abad as Bei­jing is in­volved in a num­ber of projects in the coun­try un­der the $50 bil­lion China-pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC).

“As you know build­ing of the China-pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor is an im­por­tant part of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive,” Lu said.

“China and Pak­istan are also mak­ing ef­forts to build the China-pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor which is in the com­mon in­ter­ests of the coun­tries along the route. I don t think it is nec­es­sary for the out­side world to make too much guesses in this re­gard,” he said.

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