Koreas agree to meet next week over Games

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Koreas agree to meet next week over Games

South Korea yesterday asked the North to join them in a meeting next week to discuss its participation in the upcoming Incheon Asian Games.

The Incheon Asian Games Organizing Committee said it sent a fax addressed to the North’s Olympic Committee Chairman Kim Yong-hun through the liaison channel at the truce village of Panmunjeom. In the message, the chairman of the organizing committee proposed that a meeting be held on the South Korean side of Panmunjeom on Thursday.

The proposal was Seoul’s response to a request made by the North earlier this week to hold talks on Tuesday regarding its plan to send cheerleaders to the Incheon Asian Games in September.

The Incheon Asian Games Organizing Committee said it told the North that a delegation headed by the secretary general of the committee will attend the meeting and that other issues surrounding the event will further be discussed through the liaison office at Panmunjeom.

In its request last week, the North said the vice chairman of its committee would lead the delegation.

The North did not immediately respond to the South’s proposal, but Seoul has speculated that the meeting will take place Thursday.

While details of the agenda were not revealed, a South Korean Unification Ministry official said the travel routes of North Korean athletes and cheerleaders who will come to the South and their itineraries will be discussed. Regarding financial assistance for the North’s dispatch of cheerleaders, the official said Seoul will listen to the North’s request first and make a decision based on inter-Korean relations and public sentiment in the South.

If the North participates in the Games, it will be the fourth time that it will have sent its cheerleaders to an international sporting event in the South. The last time was in 2005. At the time, Ri Sol-ju, now the first lady of the Communist state, was one of 124 cheerleaders who came to the Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon.

When the North dispatched its cheerleaders in 2002 for the Busan Asian Games, Seoul spent more than 1.35 billion won ($1.32 million) to fund their stay. Inter-Korean cooperation funds were also used in two subsequent visits.

The Incheon Asian Games will start on Sept. 19 and the Para Games will begin on Oct. 18.

As the sporting event draws near, President Park Geun-hye met yesterday with Incheon Mayor Yoo Jeong-bok, one of her closest confidants, to check on the progress.

Park traveled to the main stadium where Mayor Yoo greeted her and she emphasized that Yoo must make sure that safety is the top priority at the Games.

“No matter how successful the events are, just one safety accident can be a big flaw,” Park said. “There should be no crack.”

Regarding the North’s plan to send cheerleaders to the event, Mayor Yoo said he wants to take their visit as an opportunity to improve inter-Korean relations.

BY ser myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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