Teams from North will go to Incheon for games

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Teams from North will go to Incheon for games

North Korea announced it would participate in the Incheon Asian Games this autumn, as the reclusive state continues to make conciliatory gestures toward South Korea.

Also yesterday, Kenneth Bae, an American held by Pyongyang who has allegedly been convicted of anti-state activities, was allowed to address a press conference in Pyongyang in which he appealed for the U.S. government to aid his release.

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency media outlet yesterday reported that it would send players to both the men and women’s football matches in the 2014 Asian Games. The event will be held in Incheon, a western port city of South Korea, from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4.

It’s been a year and two months since North Korea sent players to an international sporting event in South Korea. Its national women’s football team participated in the 2013 EAFF East Asian Cup in July 2013.

“That is a unilateral announcement by North Korea,” a South Korean government official told reporters at a briefing. “They have not officially notified us of their participation yet.”

The participation of the North’s national football teams has to be approved by the South’s Ministry of Unification, which is in charge of inter-Korean relations. The regime should give a list of visitors to the South, including players and assistants.

Among the 45 countries registered as members of the Olympic Council of Asia, North Korea was the only country that had not notified South Korea of its participation in the games so far. The remaining 44 countries are attending.

“As I had contact with North Korean officials at various international events, I felt North Korea would participate in the Asian Games,” Kim Young-soo, chairman of the 2014 Incheon Asian Games Organizing Committee, said.

“Still, they could not give a clear answer due to the unstable domestic situation in the country.”

Tensions have been heightened on the Korean Peninsula since the brutal execution of North Korea’s second-most powerful figure, Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Recently, the Communist leader has made conciliatory proposals toward the South to improve relations. But the North has also demanded the South scrap scheduled joint military drills with the United States.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that Kenneth Bae, who has been jailed in North Korea for more than a year, appeared before reporters, asking the U.S. government to do its best to secure his release.

Bae made the comments Monday at what he called a press conference held at his own request.

Bae was arrested in November 2012 while leading a tour group. He was accused of crimes against the state and was then sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He was moved to a hospital last summer because of his poor health.

He is the longest-serving American detainee in North Korea in recent years.


BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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