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(2nd LD) N.K. leader Kim unlikely to attend inter-Korean basketball event

All Headlines 13:46 July 05, 2018

(ATTN: ADDS info in last 3 paras, photo)

SEOUL, July 5 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is unlikely to attend inter-Korean friendly basketball matches scheduled for Thursday, a senior Pyongyang official said.

"The chairman is currently giving on-site guidance, so it is likely that he might not attend today's matches," United Front Department head Kim Yong-chol said in a brief meeting in Pyongyang with South Korea's Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon. "He asked me to go instead to meet (you)."

Kim Jong-un was expected to take part in the two-day event given that he is known to be an avid fan of basketball. On Wednesday, when the two games with teams comprised of a mix of South and North Korean players were held, he was not seen among the attendees.

"(He) watched the games yesterday on TV," the official said.

The two Koreas plan to hold two more friendly matches on Thursday in which South Korean players will compete with their North Korean rivals.

This marked the first time in about 15 years that the two Koreas have arranged friendly basketball matches.

The event was arranged after high-level officials from the two Koreas met in June to discuss sports exchanges in line with the spirit of the April 27 summit, where their leaders promised to expand cross-border exchanges and contacts.

This photo taken by joint press corps shows South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon speak with North Korea's United Front Department head Kim Yong-chol during a brief meeting in Pyongyang on July 5, 2018. (Yonhap)

"As you are well aware, this event was initiated by our chairman himself. When some say that there has been little actual progress in inter-Korean relations, the point is to create a (good) atmosphere through those matches," the North Korean official said.

South Korea sent a 100-strong delegation led by Unification Minister Cho. It includes dozens of male and female basketball players, government officials, staff members and journalists.

Cho's detailed schedule in Pyongyang, other than attending the sports event, has not been disclosed but expectations linger that he could meet leader Kim during his stay.

His trip also coincided with a planned visit to Pyongyang by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later this week. The visit is intended to provide a chance to work out details on how to carry out the North's promised dismantlement of its nuclear weapons program.

The delegation is to return home on Friday.

Briefing on his talks with Kim Yong-chol, Cho told reporters that the North Korean official mentioned Pompeo's upcoming trip, quoting him as saying that he is to meet with the U.S. secretary of state to discuss pending issues.

Cho said that the two mentioned a string of working-level talks the two Koreas have recently held to discuss cooperation in such areas as railways, roads and forestry and shared a view that future inter-Korean meetings should be pursued in a more practical and swift manner.

"I told him that at first we did not know the other side's situation sufficiently but things like that can be resolved naturally when we have second and third rounds of talks going forward," he told reporters.

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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