PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — A South Korean weightlifter heard his national anthem played Saturday after winning gold in an international competition in North Korea, an unusual development between the bitter rivals and a vivid sign of the Koreas’ easing tensions after a spring of war threats.
Two South Koreans in the junior competition at the Asian Cup and Interclub Weightlifting Championship in Pyongyang, Kim Woo-sik and Lee Young-gun, were the only competitors in the 85 kilogram (187.34 pounds) weight category and automatically won gold and silver. The crowd in Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong Indoor Stadium stood as the South Korean national anthem played and two South Korean flags were raised.
It’s the first time South Korean athletes have attended an international sports event in North Korea, government officials in Seoul said. Both countries believe they’re the only legitimate government on the Korean Peninsula, which is still technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
North and South Korea are pursuing diplomacy after a March and April that saw Pyongyang threatening Seoul and Washington with nuclear strikes, an attack capability that many experts doubt the North yet possesses. North Korea linked its warlike rhetoric to U.N. sanctions imposed over its February nuclear test and U.S.-South Korean military drills.
In recent weeks, the Koreas have restored a military hotline at the border, agreed to restart a jointly run factory park shut down in April, and will have reunions this month of families separated by the war.
There’s still wariness in Seoul and Washington, as Pyongyang has repeatedly vowed to boost its nuclear weapons and missiles production; recent satellite images appear to show Pyongyang is restarting a plutonium reactor.
The South Korean delegation is composed of 41 athletes, sports officials and others, according to the South’s ministry for affairs with the North. They are scheduled to return to Seoul on Wednesday.
Seoul said it allowed the trip because the competition is an international match organized by the Asian weightlifting federation.
South Korean athletes last visited North Korea when a South Korean youth soccer team traveled to Pyongyang in 2008 for a friendly inter-Korean match, according to officials in Seoul.