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(LEAD) S. Korea rules out possible talks with N.K. on occasion of sports events

All Headlines 13:57 April 04, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS more details in last 5 paras)

SEOUL, April 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's unification ministry on Tuesday dismissed the possibility that it would hold dialogue with North Korea on the occasion of sports events being held on both sides of the border.

On Thursday, women ice hockey players from the two Koreas will square off in Gangneung, some 230 kilometers east of Seoul. A day later, their women's football teams will compete in a qualifying match in Pyongyang for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women's Asian Cup.

The ministry said that the athletes' reciprocal visits are just sports exchanges, adding that it is not a time to seek inter-Korean talks.

"Their visits are (aimed at taking part in) international sports events," said a ministry official. "I don't think meaningful dialogue is possible other than sports exchanges, given inter-Korean (tensions)."

The sports events come amid growing signs that Pyongyang may conduct another nuclear test or launch a long-range rocket.

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

North Korean players celebrate their goal against the Netherlands at the International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championship Division II Group A at Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on April 3, 2017. (Yonhap)

The ministry said Monday that it will allow North Korea to take part in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics if Pyongyang decides to do so.

On Sunday, North Korea expressed its intent to take part in the Winter Games in PyeongChang, 180 kilometers east of Seoul, according to Choi Moon-soon, the provincial governor of the host city.

The government said that a set of U.N. sanctions and punitive measures against North Korea's nuclear and missile programs do not ban Pyongyang from joining international sports events.

Any trip to the North requires the South's approval, and vice versa, as the two Koreas have technically remained in a state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

In the past, North Korea held international sports events, not affected by icy inter-Korean ties.

South Korean footballers took part in an international youth tournament in Pyongyang in August 2015, when inter-Korean tensions heightened due to North Korean land mines maiming two South Korean soldiers along the heavily fortified border.

North Korea sent its female football players to South Korea for the Women's East Asian Cup in July 2013 in the midst of the frayed ties sparked by the North's temporary closure of a joint industrial park in the North's border city of Kaesong.

"North Korea appears to be ready to carry out a nuclear test at any time upon decisions by its leadership," a ministry official said.

A source familiar with North Korean affairs said that South Korea should not be deceived by North Korea's seemingly conciliatory gestures in sports as it can make provocative acts at any time.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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