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(LEAD) Koreas to march together as one at PyeongChang Olympics opening ceremony

All Headlines 23:13 January 20, 2018

(ATTN: RESTRUCTURES; ADDS details; CHANGES photo)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and North Korea will march together as one at the opening ceremony of the upcoming Winter Games south of the border, a move that the international Olympic chief said will be "a very emotional moment" for the world.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Saturday approved a request by the two countries to have their delegations march together under the name Korea at the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which will take place Feb. 9. It was one of what IOC President Thomas Bach called several "exceptional decisions" made following a meeting at its headquarters here with representatives from both sides.

The Koreas will be led into PyeongChang Olympic Stadium by the Korean Unification Flag, which bears the image of the Korean Peninsula in blue against a white background. According to the IOC, there will be two flag-bearers, one from each Korea, with one female and one male athlete.

In this file photo taken on Feb. 12, 2006, athletes from South Korea and North Korea march together at the opening ceremony of the Torino Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. South Korean speed skater Lee Bo-ra (front L) and North Korean figure skater Han Jong-in held the Korean Unification Flag together. (Yonhap)

The unified delegation will don a special uniform with the Korean Unification Flag, and the team acronym will be COR.

"I am sure this will be a very emotional moment not only for all Koreans but for also for the entire world," Bach said. "Coming myself from a formerly divided country (Germany), it is a moment that I am also personally looking forward to with great anticipation and great emotion."

The two Koreas held high-level talks on Jan. 9 to discuss North Korea's participation in PyeongChang 2018 after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in his New Year's address that he would consider sending an athletic delegation. Then on Wednesday, at a follow-up, working-level meeting, the two sides agreed to jointly march at the opening ceremony.

That left the IOC to finalize details on protocols for the North, such as its flag and uniform. The two Koreas agreed that North Korea's athletic delegation will arrive in PyeongChang on Feb. 1.

In addition to athletes and coaches, North Korea has offered to send a 230-member cheering team, a taekwondo demonstration team and an art troupe.

This will be the first joint Korean march into an opening ceremony at an international sports competition in 11 years and the 10th joint march overall.

The first came at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics. Athletes from the Koreas also walked in together at the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics and the 2006 Torino Winter Games.

There have been joint marches at two Asian Summer Games and two Asian Winter Games, as well as at a Summer Universiade and an East Asian Games. The last one came at the 2007 Asian Winter Games in Changchun, China.

South Korea and North Korea have been technically at war for over six decades since the Korean War ended in 1953 with an armistice, rather than a peace treaty.

At the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, 450 kilometers south of Seoul, North Korea had 362 athletes and a 288-member cheering squad. At the Summer Universiade the following year in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, North Korea was represented by 221 athletes accompanied by a cheering team with 306 members.

The last time North Korea took part in a multi-sport competition in the South was at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. It had 273 athletes then, with no cheering team, but it sent three high-ranking officials, including Choe Ryong-hae, now the de facto No. 2 man in Pyongyang, to the closing ceremony.

Inter-Korean cooperation, sports-related or otherwise, had been virtually non-existent under Seoul's previous two conservative regimes. After liberal-minded President Moon Jae-in took office last May, South Korea adopted a more conciliatory stance, even amid North Korean military provocations.

Both Moon and Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan called on North Korea to participate in the competition, saying its presence would help improve strained inter-Korean ties.

In this AFP photo, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach (C) delivers a statement with North Korean Sports Minister Kim Il-guk (L) and his South Korean counterpart Do Jong-hwan (R) behind him, after the IOC's North and South Korean Olympic Participation Meeting at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Jan. 20, 2018. (Yonhap)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) also supported South Korea's overtures, saying such ideas reflect the Olympic spirit of promoting peace and goodwill.

Bach, who chaired Saturday's meeting, thanked the two governments, since such an agreement "would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago."

"The Olympic athletes can show us the way. They show us how to compete peacefully and how, despite all our differences, it is possible for humankind to live together in peace, respect and harmony," Bach added. "In this way, the Olympic Games show us what the world could look like if we were all guided by the Olympic spirit of respect and understanding. This is the Olympic message that will go from PyeongChang to the world."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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