North requests talks prior to cheerleaders’ arrival

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North requests talks prior to cheerleaders’ arrival

North Korea proposed low-level talks to Seoul in preparation for sending its cheerleaders to the Incheon Asian Games in September, Seoul officials said yesterday.

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification and the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said that Pyongyang yesterday sent a fax message in the name of “the chairman of the Olympic Committee of the DPRK” to the South proposing the talks to be held at the border village of Panmunjom sometime around July 15.

South Korea will soon announce its reply to the proposal, a Unification Ministry official told reporters yesterday.

The KCNA said it clarified its plan to dispatch “a large-scale delegation of cheerleaders” along with its athletes, without mentioning the exact number of the girls.

This is the fourth time that North Korea will send its cheerleaders to an international sporting event in South Korea.

Previously, North Korea sent 288 cheerleaders to the 2002 Busan Asian Games - the first time the regime did so - amid an increasingly conciliatory mood after the June 2000 inter-Korean summit.

The following year, Pyongyang also sent 303 cheerleaders to the 2003 Summer Universiade in Daegu.

And in 2005, North Korea also sent 124 cheerleaders, including Ri Sol-ju, who is now the first lady of North Korea, to the Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon.

The dispatch of North Korean cheerleaders alongside its national team players is to “improve inter-Korean relations, provide the atmosphere for national unity and cheer on its players,” the KCNA said yesterday in its English dispatch.

The KCNA added that some “matters of concern” would be discussed at official talks, though it did not elaborate on those issues.

Seoul officials expect a key agenda item for the talks will include how much the South Korean government should pay for the North’s cheerleaders’ stay.

According to the Unification Ministry, South Korea has spent its own state budget covering most of the cost of accommodation, meals, transportation, security detail and other support for the North Korean cheerleaders at the previous games.

“If the cheerleaders stay in a ship, we don’t have to provide them with accommodation, but if they come here by via plane, we will have to,” a Seoul official told reporters.

Previously, in 2002, Seoul spent about 1.3 billion won ($1.2 million) for the girls, although the cheerleaders stayed in a North Korean ferry docked in the port city of Busan.

In 2003 and 2005, they arrived via an Air Koryo jet. South Korea spent about 800 million won for their stay in 2003, and 190 million won in 2005.

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




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