North Korea Withdraws from 2015 Gwangju Summer Universiade via Email

D-Bo , June 24, 2015, 9:29 a.m.

North Korea has told the South Korean host of the upcoming Summer Universiade that it will not participate in the athletic competition due to political reasons, the event's organizers said Monday. The communist country has withdrawn its earlier plan to send 75 athletes and 33 officials to the multisport competition for university athletes via email, according to Kim Yoon-suk, secretary general of the organizing committee.

Kim said the committee received the email from North Korea at 6:31 p.m. last Friday. It was sent by Jon Kuk-man, head of the North's university sports federation. In the message, North Korea said it won't take part in the Universiade because of the scheduled opening of the Seoul office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. The field office, which will open Tuesday, will be charged with monitoring and documenting human rights in North Korea.

The International University Sports Federation's secretary general, Eric Saintrond, was also listed on the recipient list, but Kim said FISU has yet to receive the same email. Kim said the organizing committee is working with the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, to determine the veracity of the North Korean message. "It's premature to conclude that North Korea has completely pulled out of the Universiade," Kim added.

Yoon Jang-hyun, mayor of Gwangju and president of the organizing committee, also held out hope that the North will change its mind. "We express regret over the email from North Korea," Yoon said. "But with an open mind, we will wait until the last minute for North Korea to participate."  In March, North Korea had said it would compete in athletics, diving, artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, table tennis, judo, women's football and handball.

However, the country missed the June 3 deadline to formally register for the event and also let the second deadline of June 15 pass. North Korea took part in the last Universiade held in South Korea, the 2003 summer competition in Daegu.

On May 29, the North threatened to strike back at the South for the opening of the human rights office. Pyongyang dubbed the plan to set up the office "an unpardonable provocation." North Korea has long been labeled one of the world's worst human rights violators, but it has often bristled at such criticism, calling it a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.

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