(ATTN: UPDATES with more details throughout; ADDS photo)
SEOUL, Oct. 4 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has sent a high-ranking delegation to the South for the Incheon Asian Games closing ceremony on Saturday, Seoul's Ministry of Unification said, a move that may indicate Pyongyang's desire to improve bilateral relationships.
According to ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol, the North informed the South on Friday that it wanted to send Hwang Pyong-so, Choe Ryong-hae and Kim Yang-gon to the ceremony slated for 6 p.m. Saturday. The request was made through North Korean sports authorities.
The visit by the influential figures is noteworthy because the three officials are not directly in charge of sports in the communist country.
<YNAPHOTO path='C:/YNA/YNACLI~1/Down/Article/AEN20141004000352320_01_i.jpg' id='' title='' caption='North Korea's senior delegation to the Incheon Asian Games: Hwang Pyong-so (L), Choe Ryong-hae (C) and Kim Yang-gon (Yonhap file photo)'/>
The three officials arrived via a direct air route from North Korea to Incheon International Airport at 10:00 a.m.
Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae is expected to hold talks with the North Korean officials after their arrival and even have lunch together, along with the South's national security adviser, Kim Kwan-jin.
The senior delegation, which includes nine other officials, will meet North Korean athletes who took part in the games and depart for Pyongyang after the closing ceremony at around 10 p.m.
Hwang was recently tapped as the director of the military's General Political Bureau, the top military post in North Korea. He holds the rank of vice marshal in the Korean People's Army. He is largely viewed as the No. 2 man in the communist country after leader Kim Jong-un.
Kim is head of the United Front Department of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, tasked with overseeing the activities of sleeper agents operating in South Korea, while Hwang, who is a secretary of the North's ruling Workers' Party of Korea, is said to still have influence despite stepping down from his post of vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission.
Seoul, meanwhile, said that while it is withholding judgment on why the North is sending such a high-level delegation to Incheon at this juncture, it is hopeful that the visit can play a role in improving bilateral relations.
Lim said that the trip is arranged so the North Korean delegation can meet its athletes. He added that Seoul was not aware if the officials would bring a letter from the North Korean leader.
The spokesman said the North Koreans will be staying in the Incheon area, and there are no plans for them to meet South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
Related to the trip, the North's state controlled media quickly reported on the departure of the delegation to Incheon and highlighted their itinerary.
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