North plans concerts in South on Feb. 8 and 11

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North plans concerts in South on Feb. 8 and 11

A North Korean orchestra will hold a concert on Feb. 8, the eve of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, in Gangneung, Gangwon, the first time since August 2002 that North Koreans will perform in the South - and the first time ever outside Seoul.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry announced Tuesday night that Pyongyang has chosen the Gangneung Arts Center and the National Theater of Korea in Jung District, central Seoul, for the Samjiyon Orchestra concerts, on Feb. 8 and Feb. 11.

Some 140 orchestra members, including singers, dancers, instrumentalists and staff, will cross into South Korea on Feb. 6 via a road near the west coast, and leave on Feb. 12.

The regime didn’t explain why it ditched its original proposal, relayed to Seoul officials last week, that it wanted its orchestra to enter the South through the heavily fortified Joint Security Area.

A seven-member delegation from the North, led by Hyon Song-wol, leader of the orchestra and deputy director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department within the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, visited Gangneung and Seoul last Sunday and Monday to check venues for the concerts, taking the same west coast road.

The concerts will be invitation-based, meaning tickets won’t be sold to the public. Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told local media last week that Seoul suggested to Pyongyang officials in the latest working-level talks that the orchestra play Korean folk songs and classical music, to which the North replied it would play folk music well-known in both Koreas, as well as world classics.

A major concern was that Pyongyang might play propaganda.

Pyongyang also said Tuesday it would send 12 North Korean athletes to the South today with a coach and two supporting staff members. They will be competing in the Olympics on the joint women’s ice hockey team with South Korea.

The athletes will arrive with a second North Korean inspection team that will examine local accommodations, stadiums and Olympic press centers for the North Korean athletes, taekwondo performers, cheerleaders and reporters coming to the South.

That group of eight will be led by Yun Yong-bok, a deputy director at the North’s Physical Culture and Sports Ministry, and will stay until Saturday.

According to the South’s Unification Ministry, the delegation will enter South Korea this morning via the west coast road and spend the rest of the day looking at the Gangneung Ice Arena, Gangneung Olympic Village and Kwandong Hockey Centre, all in Gangneung. Tomorrow, it will visit the PyeongChang International Broadcast Centre, PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, Alpensia Cross-Country Centre and Yongpyong Alpine Centre, all in Pyeongchang County, Gangwon.

On Saturday, it will travel to Seoul, dropping by the headquarters of the MBC broadcasting network in Sangam-dong, western Seoul, where a taekwondo show is expected to be performed. The team will be looking at hotels as well.

A 12-member South Korean delegation that entered the North Tuesday to examine facilities on Mount Kumgang, where a joint cultural event will be held soon, and the Masikryong Ski Resort, where South Korean skiers will train with North Koreans, is expected to return to Seoul this evening.

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