Winter Olympics: North Korean team arrives Wednesday

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A 280-member North Korean delegation, including cheerleaders and taekwondo demonstrators, will travel to South Korea this week ahead of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Seoul’s unification ministry said.

The delegation led by Sports Minister Kim Il-guk will arrive in the South around 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday via a western cross-border land route, the ministry added.

The team consists of four officials from the National Olympic Committee, 229 cheerleaders, 26 taekwondo demonstrators and 21 journalists, the government said.

The two Koreas have engaged in a flurry of sports diplomacy after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un extended a rare olive branch to Seoul in his New Year’s message.

The move came after a year of tensions sparked by the North’s nuclear and missile provocations.

A cheering squad is expected to root for a unified women’s ice hockey team, which was assembled under the two Koreas’ agreement and approval by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Details about the cheering team have not been released, but the North has previously sent a group of elite female supporters with good looks, arguably as a charm offensive.

North Korea reportedly picks members of cheering squads by thoroughly examining family background, appearance, skills and loyalty to the government.

The North has sent an average of 240 cheerleaders to three international sports events hosted by the South.

These are the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, the 2003 Summer Universiade in Daegu and the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon.

Ri Sol-ju, the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was later discovered to be one of cheerleaders for the 2005 event.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s taekwondo demonstrators will hold a joint performance with their South Korean counterparts on four occasions to celebrate the Feb. 9 to Feb. 25 Winter Games.

The first demonstration will be held as a pre-ceremony event in PyeongChang, the host city of the Olympics, on Friday.

It will be followed by one in Sokcho the following day and two others in Seoul on Monday and Wednesday.