South Korean skiers to spend 2 days in the North this week

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South Korean skiers to spend 2 days in the North this week


North Korean officials guide a South Korean delegation at the Masikryong Ski Resort in the North’s Kangwon Province last week, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Monday. [YONHAP]

A team of South Korean skiers will take a chartered plane to North Korea’s Kalma Airport in Wonsan, Kangwon Province this week to train with North Korean athletes at the Masikryong Ski Resort, the Unification Ministry announced Monday.

The overnight visit to the ski slope is expected to start this Wednesday, which would be the first pre-Olympic joint event between the two Koreas. The ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, was originally planned to release details of the training program, including the date, to local media on Monday morning but didn’t, saying both sides have yet to fully wrap up consultations.

The North has so far confirmed it would cover overall costs for the visiting South Koreans, said Baik Tae-hyun, the ministry’s spokesman, such as lodging and food. Seoul won’t pay any money for using Kalma Airport.

A major dilemma for authorities is that the decision to fly a domestic aircraft across the border might trigger a reaction from the White House, which through an executive order last September issued a 180-day ban on any vessel or aircraft that has visited North Korea from visiting the United States.

Asked about the issue Monday, Baik said Seoul was closely discussing the matter with Washington. If the South Korean skiers do land in Kalma Airport this week, it will mark the first time any South Korean national has done so.

The freezing weather and icy roads make transportation by car difficult.

A senior South Korean government official who visited the airport and Masikryong Ski Resort last week on an advance inspection said dozens of local athletes are expected to make the two-day trip, spending the first day looking around and second day competing against North Korean athletes in cross-country skiing and alpine skiing friendly matches.

Upon their arrival at the airport, the delegation will likely take a bus to the ski resort, some 45 minutes away.

On another front, at least 10 North Korean athletes, their coaches and support staff are expected to cross the border into South Korea this Thursday to start training for the Olympics. They will compete in pairs figure skating, short-track speed skating, cross-country skiing and alpine skiing.

The squad, which will enter the South via a road near the west coast, are staying in the Olympic Village in Gangneung, one of three places in Gangwon where the Games will be held, from the same day.

Twelve North Korean women’s ice hockey players arrived last Thursday to begin training with their South Korean teammates for the joint team.

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