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(LEAD) S. Korean delegation returns after trip to Pyongyang for basketball games

All News 19:01 July 06, 2018

(ATTN: ADDS more info in 9-12th para)

SEOUL/SEONGNAM, July 6 (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) -- South Korean officials, athletes and journalists returned home Friday from a trip to North Korea for friendly basketball matches amid a thaw in inter-Korean relations.

The 100-strong delegation led by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon arrived at an airport in Seongnam, south of Seoul, on two military planes, which they used to fly into Pyongyang on Tuesday.

South and North Korean basketball players held four friendly matches on Wednesday and Thursday in a follow up to the agreement the two Koreas made during their recent talks on expanding sports exchanges.

This was the first time in about 15 years that they had played such games.

On the sidelines of the sports event, officials of the two Koreas had a chance to meet.

On Thursday, Cho met with Kim Yong-chol, head of the United Front Department, which handles inter-Korean affairs. Their sports officials also held talks that night to discuss cooperation through sports.

It was expected that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would watch the basketball matches, as he is known to be an avid fan of basketball, but he did not show up. Kim Yong-chol explained that he couldn't join it as he was out of town giving a field guidance.

This was the latest development in inter-Korean diplomacy following the leaders' summit meetings in April and May at which they agreed to expand cross-border contacts and cooperation.

Unification Minister Cho voiced optimism that contact and cooperation with the North will likely expand even into the private sector going forward.

"The government will actively do its part to help the overall inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation be carried out in such a way that they contribute to further advancing relations between the two Koreas," Cho told pool reporters upon arriving at the airport.

During a farewell dinner hosted by the North on Thursday, he said that he had found hope for peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula through the friendly basketball matches held this week.

Choe Hwi, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, struck a similar note, saying that the joint basketball event had left an "indelible" mark in the mind and demonstrated that the two Koreas are a single country sharing the same blood, language and history.

"There may be winners and losers in sports games, but on the path to self-determined reunification intended to reconnect severed bloodlines and land, there are no winners or losers," he said.


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