North misses the deadline to apply for Universiade

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North misses the deadline to apply for Universiade

North Korea has yet to register for next month’s Gwangju Summer Universiade, raising the prospect that it could boycott the sporting event, possibly over concerns about the spread here of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

The virus, which was first detected in South Korea in May, had contributed to 20 deaths as of Wednesday.

According to the Gwangju organizing committee, North Korea has yet to register for the Universiade, scheduled to run from July 3 to July 14. The registration deadline was Monday.

The organizing committee stated that it will keep the door open for North Korea to submit an application until as late as just before the opening ceremony.

However, considering the time and resources necessary to prepare for proper arrangements, registration should ideally be filed no later than the end of June.

The potential that North Korea could boycott the games is a disappointment for the organizing committee, which had hoped that the presence of North Korean athletes would generate public interest in the event.

The possibility is also letdown for the government, as North Korea’s participation was expected to serve as an informal catalyst for easing tensions on the peninsula.

In October, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent three top officials to the Incheon Asian Games to meet with senior presidential officials, including security adviser Kim Kwan-jin, before the trio attended the closing ceremony.

At the time, their appearance was momentarily interpreted as a breakthrough in bilateral ties, which have long been at a standstill.

Pyongyang’s silence on the Universiade contrasts with its earlier position in March that it would send a delegation of 75 athletes and 33 coaches and officials to take part in the 12-day event.

While theories have arisen over the reasons for the North’s abrupt reticence, it is possible that the country is concerned that the outbreak of MERS in South Korea - which has already infected more than 160 people in less than a month - could spill into its territory and spiral out of control.

North Korea’s concern over the potentially fatal disease was evidenced earlier this month when Pyongyang asked for three thermal scanners to be set up at entry points of the Kaesong Industrial Complex north of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) to monitor its workers.

It also demanded that any South Koreans who had recently visited the Middle East to be banned from entering the complex.

An official at the Ministry of Unification said North Korea has also requested South Korean officials to provide manuals on how to prevent and respond to the MERS outbreak.

North Korea is sensitive about the spread of the disease, largely due to its own poorly managed medical systems.

It previously banned foreign travelers from visiting North Korea for about five months last year and put an entry restriction on the capital, Pyongyang, in what was seen as an extreme reaction to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongnag.co.kr]

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