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North Korean Troupe Is Cleared to Enter South’s Waters Before Games

The Mangyongbong-92 itself is not one of the North Korean ships blacklisted by the United Nations or Washington on suspicion of involvement in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

But South Korea has cut off all trade with North Korea and barred its ships from entering South Korean waters under sanctions it imposed following the sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010. It blamed a North Korean torpedo attack for the sinking, which killed 46 sailors in one of the country’s worst military disasters since the 1950-53 Korean War.

“We are considering making the ferry an exception, given our efforts to make Pyeongchang a success,” Mr. Baik said in reference to the Olympic Games and their main host city.


Hyon Song-wol, a well-known North Korean singer who leads the arts troupe, visited the South Korean cities of Gangneung and Seoul last month to inspect concert halls. Credit Kim in-Chul/Yonhap, via Associated Press

United Nations sanctions also require countries to inspect ships that have recently visited North Korea. South Korea’s own sanctions, imposed as punishment against North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, ban ships from docking in South Korean ports for one year after visiting North Korea.

Mr. Baik said South Korea was talking with the United States and the United Nations to ensure that the Mangyongbong-92’s visit to South Korea would not violate international sanctions.

South Korea won an exception from Washington when its Asiana Air charter plane took South Korean players to a North Korean ski resort last week for joint training with the North Koreans. The passenger jet later returned home with North Korean athletes who are competing in the Olympics. Washington normally bans planes from landing in the United States for six months after visiting North Korea.

In North Korea, musicians and singers serve as a key vehicle for state propaganda. South Korean officials said they were talking with their North Korean counterparts to ensure that the North Korean troupe steers away from political messages during performances.

More than 150,000 South Koreans have applied for 1,060 free tickets to the performances, which the government is distributing by an online lottery.

When Hyon Song-wol, a well-known North Korean singer who leads the troupe, visited Gangneung and Seoul last month to inspect concert halls, her trip triggered a frenzy in the South Korean media, which focused intensely on what she wore and what she ate during her visit.

South Korea is eager to use the North’s Olympic participation as an opportunity to expand inter-Korean dialogue and to ease tensions with Pyongyang. Both Washington and Tokyo have warned that such efforts should not weaken the enforcement of sanctions that the United Nations has imposed on the North.

Details of the troupe’s visit came amid signs of continuing tensions between Japan and South Korea in advance of the Olympics.

The Japanese government on Monday protested the appearance of a set of contested islands known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan on flags that were waved by some cheerleaders at pre-Olympic training sessions. The flags bore maps of a unified peninsula with the islands included.

Although the Japanese government acknowledged that these were not official flags, but privately produced ones, a Foreign Ministry official said Japan still protested through formal diplomatic channels. In remarks to reporters, Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, called the flags “extremely regrettable.”

Source: NYT > World

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