Pyongyang refuses to send cheerleaders to Incheon
Son Kwang-ho, the vice chairman of North Korea’s Olympic Committee, appeared on the regime’s official Korean Central Television on Thursday and said, “We are not going to send a cheerleading squad to the Asian Games.”
Son said negotiations on July 17 over preparations for North Korean athletes and cheerleaders were ruined by South Korean officials.
“The negotiations at the low-level talks were botched because the South Korean side called our cheerleaders ‘a delegation of anti-South Korea spies,’” Son said, “and disputed the size of the squad, the size of our national flag, as well as the expenses [for their stay in South Korea].”
South Korea refuted the allegation.
“We think it was very regrettable [for North Korea] to unilaterally announce the cancellation of the dispatch of the cheerleaders, making the false argument that we disputed the issues,” said Lim Byeong-cheol, the Unification Ministry’s spokesman, at a briefing yesterday. “It was North Korea that broke the negotiations off at the low-level talks on July 17, arguing that we complained about the expense of their stay and the size of the North Korean flag.”
“Our position is basically to welcome the participation of the North Korean athletes and cheerleaders,” Lim said. “Although the matter of supporting their stays should follow international customs, our position is to cooperate [with North Korea] in order to make a positive contribution to inter-Korean relations.”
Still, the spokesman said the South Korean government would not beg Pyongyang to send its cheerleaders.
“Although we still have the position that we welcome them, it’s a matter that North Korea has to judge,” Lim said. “We think it is not right for us to demand the dispatch of the delegation.”
On July 7, North Korea officially notified Seoul of its plan to send a large delegation of 700 people including athletes, cheerleaders and others to the Incheon Asian Games, which are scheduled for Sept. 19 to Oct. 4.
Negotiators from two Koreas had talks at the truce village of Panmunjom on July 17 to discuss preparations in the midst of expectations that it could be an opportunity to thaw frosty inter-Korean relations.
However, Pyongyang’s negotiators walked away from the talks after failing to reach an agreement over the expense of the delegation’s stay in South Korea, as well as the size of the flag of the Communist regime during their stay, which is a politically sensitive matter to the South.
After the failed talks, South Korea proposed a higher-level meeting on Aug. 19 to discuss holding reunions of war-separated families and also called for resuming talks on the cheerleaders.
On Aug. 20, a group of senior North Korean officials who visited South Korea for a congress to prepare for the Asian Games football tournament announced that 273 athletes would be sent to Seoul, without officially mentioning the cheerleaders or the issue of family reunions.
The last time North Korea sent cheerleaders to an international sports event in South Korea was for the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships, which were also held in Incheon.
However, North Korea approved a visit from a group of senior U.S. officials to Pyongyang recently, just two days before the South Korea-United States joint military drills, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, started on Aug. 18, a source told the JoongAng Ilbo.
“On Aug. 16, some U.S. officials visited Pyongyang for two days,” said an official of the U.S. Department of Defense familiar with Pyongyang-Washington relations on Thursday. “They used a U.S. Air Force jet for the visit and entered North Korean airspace with the help of the South Korean government.”
A senior Seoul official confirmed the alleged visit by U.S. officials.
“Although we can’t say who visited and what they negotiated there, it is true that a U.S. Air Force jet visited North Korea,” the South Korean official said.
BY KIM HEE-JIN, JEONG YONG-SOO [email@example.com]