North Korea’s head of state to visit South Korea for 1st time

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North Korean head of state Kim Yong Nam will travel to South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, making him the highest-ranking North Korean official to ever visit the South, both countries confirmed on Monday.

A brief statement from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Kim, who is 90 years old and serves as the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, will attend Friday’s opening ceremony in Pyeongchang.

Baik Tae Hyun, a spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, said North Korea delivered a document at 10:50 p.m. on Sunday to advise Seoul about Kim’s visit. The high-level delegation will also include two other North Korean officials and 18 support staff.

“The ROK Government welcomes the high-level delegation’s visit to the South and will ensure necessary convenience and guarantee safety during their stay,” Baik said, adding that South Korea hopes the Winter Olympics – which it calls the “Peace Olympics” – will help to restore inter-Korean relations.

“The ROK government will not only prepare for the high-level delegation’s attendance to the opening ceremony, games, and events of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, but also arrange inter-Korean dialogue between high-level delegates,” the spokesman added, providing no specific details.

An official at South Korea’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae told the Yonhap news agency that President Moon Jae-in was considering to propose a one-on-one meeting with Kim, though no decision was made as of late Monday. Both Kim and Moon will attend the opening ceremony.

The Unification Ministry said the high-level delegation is expected to stay in the South through Sunday, when Kim is likely to go to Seoul to attend a performance by North Korea’s art troupe. He is further expected to attend a match of a unified women’s ice hockey team on Saturday.

Also on Monday, North Korea confirmed that its art troupe for the Winter Olympics will travel to the South on the passenger ferry Mangyongbong-92. The vessel, on which the 140 orchestra members, singers and dancers will be staying, is expected to arrive in Donghae at 5 p.m. local time on Tuesday.

Due to the high level of interest among the general public, the South announced on Monday that it will reduce the number of government invitees for the Samjiyon orchestra’s performances. More than 150,000 people have registered in the hopes of attending one of the two shows.

As a result, the government has decided to allow 1,560 members of the general public to attend the events, including 560 people who will attend Thursday’s performance in Gangneung and 1,000 people who will attend Sunday’s event at the National Theater in Seoul.

In addition to members of the public, the government has reserved 729 invitations for public personnel and other people. This will put the expected total audience for the two events at 2,289 in total, including 1,477 in Seoul and 812 in Gangneung.

A total of 252 government invites will be available for the concert in Gangneung and most will be given to people who have contributed to the local community. Many of the 477 invites which have been reserved for Seoul will be given to public workers, which includes people who were separated from their loved ones as a result of the Korean War.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula were high throughout much of 2017, fueled by North Korea’s frequent missile tests and its advancing nuclear weapons program, as well as U.S. military exercises and threatening statements by President Donald Trump.

Recent talks between North and South Korea have allowed tensions to ease ahead of the Winter Olympics, even though North Korea has insisted that its weapons program is not up for discussion under any circumstance.

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