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S. Korea hints at approval for women football players' possible visit to N.K.

All News 16:19 January 23, 2017

SEOUL, Jan. 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said Monday international guidelines would be a key factor in deciding whether to approve the South's women football players' move to attend AFC Women's Asian Cup qualifying matches to be held in North Korea.

At last week's drawing, South Korea were grouped with North Korea, Uzbekistan, Hong Kong and India in Group B for the AFC Women's Asian Cup qualifying matches, all of which will be held in Pyongyang in April. South Korean players will have a match with their North Korean counterparts on April 7.

A spokesman at Seoul's unification ministry said that the issue of approving their visit to North Korea would be handled in accordance with international regulations as South Korea is a member of Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

The remarks by ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee are viewed as a hint that the government would probably give the green light to their trip to the North.

"The government plans to review (whether to approve) the cheering squad's possible visit to the North if the South's football body makes such an application," Jeong said.

If women football players are allowed to go to North Korea, it would mark the first time that the two Koreas will hold an official football match in Pyongyang. Previously, the two sides held only friendly football games in the North's capital.

In 2008, a regional qualifier for the 2010 World Cup was supposed to be held between the two Koreas in Pyongyang. But the two sides eventually held the qualifier match in Shanghai as they disagreed on whether the South would be allowed to play its national anthem and hoist its flag in the North.

Meanwhile, whether a cheering squad will be permitted to visit the North is likely to mainly hinge on the level of inter-Korean tension, experts said.

Seoul has almost suspended all civilian inter-Korean exchanges since Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test in January 2016.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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