South Korea asks North Korea to warrant football players' safety for Pyongyang matches

Andrew Kim, March 21, 2017, 10:16 a.m.

The government has requested that North Korea guarantee the safety of South Korean football players for the AFC Women's Asian Cup qualifying matches to be held in Pyongyang next month, Seoul's unification ministry said Tuesday.

The Asian Football Confederation Group B qualifying games will be held in North Korea from April 3-11. South Korean players will have a match with their North Korean counterparts on April 7.

"The government has requested that North Korea send a document reaffirming the safety of South Korean football players," said a ministry official.

South Korea's football governing body, the Korea Football Association, is believed to have delivered the government's request to the AFC, which in turn conveyed it to North Korea.

After North Korea issues the document, the KFA will ask the government to approve the players' plan to visit North Korea for the matches.

Any trip to the North requires the Seoul government's approval, as well as the North's consent. The two Koreas are technically in a state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The ministry earlier hinted that the government will probably approve their trip to the North, saying that the issue would be handled in accordance with international regulations.

But the government showed a reserved attitude toward a cheering squad's possible trip to the North, given heightened inter-Korean tension.

Seoul has suspended almost all civilian inter-Korean exchanges since Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test in January 2016.

If women football players are allowed to go to North Korea, it would mark the first time that the two Koreas will hold an official football match in Pyongyang. Previously, the two sides held only friendly football games in the North's capital.

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