North Korea Set To Send Advance Team For Olympic Art Performance

Kaylin Hong, Jan. 19, 2018, 9:30 a.m.

North Korea will send an advance team over the weekend to prepare for a trip by an art troupe to South Korea during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Seoul's unification ministry said Friday. South Korea accepted the North's offer to send a seven-member team Saturday to check the venues for its proposed art performances in Seoul and Gangnueng, 260 kilometers east of the capital, it said.

The delegation will be led by Hyon Song-wol, leader of the all-female Moranbong Band, it added. The band was created by an order of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in July 2012 and features Western-style music and outfits.

The ministry said the advance team will use a western land route and stay for two days.

"The two sides are discussing the details needed for entry and exit," said a government official.

In working-level talks with the South held Monday, North Korea agreed to send a 140-member art troupe, consisting of an orchestra, singers and dancers, for concerts in the South.

The art troupe will be part of a North Korean delegation to the Feb. 9-25 Olympics that will also include athletes and high-ranking officials.

Hyon attended the inter-Korean dialogue held Monday as North Korea's vice chief delegate.

It is rare for a North Korean woman to lead the country's delegation to the South or join inter-Korean talks on behalf of a patriarchal society.

The North said Friday that Hyon is the leader of the "Samjiyon Orchestra," which the country earlier said will be sent to the South. The orchestra is believed to be a new music group created for Olympics performances, given that there is no reported band with that name.

The art performances during the PyeongChang Games, if held, would be the first North Korean performances in South Korea since 2002, when Pyongyang sent a cohort of 30 singers and dancers from several music and performance groups to Seoul for a joint event.

A series of inter-Korean talks came after Kim Jong-un extended a rare offer of rapprochement to Seoul in his New Year's Day speech following years of nuclear and missile provocations.

Critics said that the North seems to be trying to use the art troupe as a tool to win the hearts of South Koreans and improve its image while also weakening international sanctions on it.

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