North, South will meet again over arts group’s visit

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North, South will meet again over arts group’s visit

Representatives from Seoul and Pyongyang will convene again near the border today at 10 a.m. to discuss a North Korean performing arts group’s visit to the South next month for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

A second round of dialogue comes after the two Koreas agreed last Tuesday that they would hammer out the details of North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games through a series of talks. Today’s discussion will be the first of such follow-up discussions.

Upon Pyongyang’s request, both sides will meet at Tongilgak, a North Korea-controlled building in the truce village of Panmunjom, which straddles the border.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said Pyongyang first proposed last Saturday that they meet to discuss the performing arts group, adding it would send the following people as its delegates for the discussion: Kwon Hyok-bong, director of the Arts and Performance Bureau in North Korea’s Culture Ministry; Yun Bom-ju, a conductor of a North Korean orchestra that was not named by the South’s Unification Ministry; Hyon Song-wol, leader of the same orchestra; and Kim Sun-ho, an official with the orchestra in charge of administrative tasks.

On Sunday, the North said it would swap Yun with An Jong-ho, a stage manager, for reasons unexplained by the Unification Ministry. The South, which agreed to participate in the discussion, announced its four-member delegation as to be led by Lee Woo-sung, chief of the Culture and Arts Policy Office of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and include Lee Won-choul, CEO of the Korean Symphony Orchestra; Chong Chi-yong, the orchestra’s art director; and Han Jong-wook, director of the third Inter-Korean Dialogue Division at the Unification Ministry.

North Korea’s proposal for its performing arts group was a watered-down version of South Korea’s proposal issued on Friday, in which Seoul suggested they meet today at Peace House, a South Korea-controlled building in Panmunjom, to discuss Olympic matters.

The Unification Ministry proposed to send a three-member delegation led by Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung, to discuss North Korea’s participation in the Games as well as cultural programs.

Without responding to Seoul’s Friday offer, the North suggested Saturday they meet on their side of the border to specifically discuss its performing arts group, adding it would later inform the South about its prefered dates for other working-level talks regarding its delegation of athletes and cheerleaders.

The two sides will have to iron out their differences before Saturday, when South and North Korean government officials convene at the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, to discuss the North’s participation in the upcoming Games with IOC President Thomas Bach.

The IOC said in a statement last week that the discussions will focus on the number of North Korean athletes and officials who will travel to South Korea’s Gangwon province next month for the Olympics, as well as specific issues pertaining to North Korea’s participation, such as its flag, anthem, ceremonies and uniforms.

Chang Ung, an IOC member representing the regime, reportedly told journalists at the Beijing International Airport last Saturday that the two Koreas will also be discussing a unified women’s hockey team for the Olympics.

Chang was on his way back to the North after meeting with Bach at the IOC headquarters in Switzerland, though details of the discussions were not disclosed by Chang and the IOC. Yonhap News Agency reported last Friday that Vice Sports Minister Roh Tae-kang, who attended last week’s high-level meeting with the North, told the agency that Seoul suggested to Pyongyang they form a joint women’s hockey team. Roh did not explain how the North reacted.

Meanwhile, another South Korean government official who has knowledge of last Tuesday’s high-level meeting exclusively told the JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday that the North pressed Seoul to repatriate 12 North Korean defectors who escaped to the South in April 2016 as a prerequisite for both sides to hold discussions about a reunion for families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War. The defectors all worked at a restaurant in China run by the North Korean government before their escape. Local authorities say they voluntarily defected, though Pyongyang claims they were kidnapped by the South’s spy agency.

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