By Yoo Jee-ho
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Feb. 6 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's participation in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics will "lay the foundation for improving inter-Korean relations," the competition's top organizer said Tuesday.
Lee Hee-beom, head of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Games (POCOG), said North Korea's presence will help PyeongChang realize its vision of a "Peace Olympics."
"From Day 1, the POCOG envisioned a Peace Olympics with both South Korea and North Korea participating," Lee said at a press conference. "And I believe North Korea's participation will lay the foundation for improving the inter-Korean relations."
The Koreas will march in as one in the opening ceremony Friday, the fourth time the two have done so at an Olympic Games. And they have assembled a joint team in women's hockey. The Koreas have had joint teams at world championships for table tennis and youth football but never at any Olympics.
The Koreas remain technically at war, because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. And the ties had been especially frigid in recent months amid a series of North Korean military provocations, including its sixth nuclear test.
But in his New Year's Day address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un offered to send a delegation to PyeongChang 2018, the first Winter Olympics to take place in the South. The Koreas met to discuss the North's Olympic participation on Jan. 9, and reached an agreement on the joint march and the unified hockey team on Jan. 17. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved these measures three days later.
"Things that we didn't think would be possible just two months ago are coming true," Lee said. "We've been preparing for North Korea's participation from the very beginning. And these efforts have borne fruit."
Lee also said North Korea's reported plan to hold a massive military parade on the eve of the opening ceremony won't change the dynamics of the Olympic Games. Experts in South Korea have said the parade would be an opportunity for Pyongyang to flaunt its military muscle by showcasing long-range missiles and war planes, among others.
"North Korea will have its largest Winter Olympics delegation with 22 athletes, and it will also send a high-level delegation, an art troupe and cheerleaders to PyeongChang," Lee said. "We'll do our best to make their stay safe and comfortable. We have hosted many international sporting competitions in the past, and we haven't experienced any problems with security."
Lee also noted that all 193 U.N. member states, including North Korea, supported the United Nations' Olympic Truce Resolution for the PyeongChang Winter Games. Under its terms, U.N. member states are urged to stop all hostilities for the period from seven days before the start of the PyeongChang Olympics to seven days after the end of the March 9-18 Winter Paralympics.
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