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(LEAD) N.K. to send high-level delegation to Olympics' closing ceremony

All Headlines 13:53 February 22, 2018

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info throughout)

SEOUL, Feb. 22 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Thursday it will send a high-level delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics' closing ceremony, Seoul officials said.

Kim Yong-chol, head of the ruling party's United Front Department, will lead the eight-member delegation for a three-day trip that will start Sunday, according to Seoul's unification ministry.

The delegation also includes Ri Son-gwon, the head of the North's agency in charge of inter-Korean affairs.

"The government thinks the delegation's dispatch will help improve inter-Korean relations and bring peace to the Korean Peninsula, including the North's denuclearization," the ministry said. "In that sense, Seoul will accept their visit."

North Korea dispatched a high-level delegation that includes its ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam and Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of the North's leader Kim Jong-un, from Feb. 9-11 to attend the Olympics' opening ceremony.

Kim Yo-jong delivered her brother's letter to President Moon Jae-in, which includes an invitation of the South's leader to Pyongyang at an early date.

A flurry of sports diplomacy between the two Koreas began after the North's leader expressed a willingness to send a delegation to the Games in his New Year's Day message.

But the inclusion of Kim Yong-chol in the delegation is likely to stir up a dispute as he is blacklisted under Seoul's unilateral sanctions.

Kim, former chief of North Korea's reconnaissance bureau, is also suspected of having orchestrated Pyongyang's two deadly attacks on the South in 2010 -- the sinking of the Cheonan warship and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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