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S. Korean footballers in Pyongyang look safe despite N.K. provocation: Seoul

All Headlines 11:46 April 05, 2017

SEOUL, April 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's unification ministry said Wednesday that there seems to be no problem with the safety of its women's football team currently visiting Pyongyang even as North Korea fired a ballistic missile earlier in the day.

North Korea launched what appeared to be an intermediate-range ballistic missile, known as KN-15, into the East Sea. Despite the rising cross-border tensions, South and North Korea's athletes are currently visiting the other's side for international sports events.

The ministry handling inter-Korean affairs said that there is no unfavorable sign about the safety of South Korean players, adding that a communication channel with North Korea is consistently underway.

"There has been no unusual situation occurring, but the government will closely monitor the situation," the ministry said. "There is no change in the government's stance that sports events will be held in accordance with international practices and regulations."

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.

This photo provided by Joint Press corp. on April 3, 2017, shows the South Korean women football team and coaches posing in front of Pyongyang's airport before they will take part in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women's Asian Cup qualifying matches in North Korea. (Yonhap)

A ministry official on Tuesday ruled out the possibility that it would hold dialogue with North Korea on the occasion of sports events being held on both sides of the border.

The official said the athletes' reciprocal visits are just sports exchanges, adding that it is not time to seek inter-Korean talks, given the current tensions sparked by North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

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, during heightened inter-Korean tensions after North Korean land mines maimed 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 frayed ties sparked by the North's temporary closure of a joint industrial park in the North's border city of Kaesong.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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