SOUTH Korea confirmed Kim Jong Un’s younger sister will attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics – as a group of 280 North Koreans arrived in the South ahead of the Games.
The party – one of the largest peace-time crossings of the inter-Korean border – included a 229-strong cheer squad, a Taekwondo performance team, journalists and officials.
It is unclear when Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, will arrive in the South – but Seoul’s Unification Ministry said she will be accompanying Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s nominal head of state, along with two other senior officials.
Among those will be Choe Hwi, chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee, whose inclusion in the party has sparked concerns North Korea will use the Winter Olympics for propaganda rather than as a route to further positive talks with the South.
According to Reuters, Shin Beom-chul – a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul – said: “One of the positives of her visit is that she is someone able to deliver a direct message on behalf of Kim Jong Un.
“What is problematic is that she’s coming with Choe Hwi. This raises worries that North Korea likely intends to use this Olympics as a propaganda tool rather than a possible opening to meaningful dialogue with South Korea.”
The opening ceremony of the Games takes place at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium on Friday, with the Games running until February 25.
Relations between the feuding nations have thawed in the lead-up to the first Winter Olympics to be staged by Korea – as evidenced by Wednesday’s mass arrival in the South from the North.
The 280-strong contingent followed an earlier party of 140 – a North Korean orchestra who will perform in Gangneung on Thursday and Seoul on Sunday – to arrive in the South.
The orchestra’s arrival by ferry led to North Korea asking the South to provide oil to refuel the vessel – a sensitive issue given the global efforts to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes through cuts in energy supplies.
“There was a request for oil support during our discussions with the North after the ship arrived, and we’re reviewing it now,” South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a news briefing in Seoul.