Washington early Wednesday morning issued a last-minute approval of Seoul’s plan to send a South Korean national carrier to North Korea for an inter-Korean ski training event, the Ministry of Unification (MOU) said on Wednesday.
Skiers from the two Koreas are set to hold a two-day joint training session at North Korea’s Masikryong Ski Resort starting today, with the South Korean team having flown on a chartered flight to the DPRK’s Kalma airport this morning.
Baik Tae-hyun, Spokesperson of Unification Ministry, told press that the U.S. had given South Korea the green light to send the skiers following discussions between Seoul and Washington on the need to make sure the exchange did not violate sanctions.
“I am aware that the timing was early this morning,” Baik said, admitting that there had been concerns from both the U.S. and the airline which is to manage the chartered flight.
An official at the MOU – who wished to remain anonymous – earlier in the day confirmed to NK News that the delegation would fly using South Korean carrier Asiana Airlines plane on an Airbus A321.
Following a visit by a South Korean preliminary inspection team to the North’s Masikryong Ski Resort and Mount Kumgang, the MOU confirmed to NK News on Friday that the joint training was likely to happen in late January or early February.
The MOU only officially confirmed the itinerary of the training on Wednesday morning, however, despite Baik saying on Monday that the plans were “at the final stage.”
Seoul’s proposal last week that it would use the DPRK’s Kalma International Airport to transport a team to the North has raised complex issues related to both international and unilateral sanctions, and the extent to which planned inter-Korean exchanges might violate them.
“…in the process of pursuing the cooperation with the international community including the U.S. on sanctions, it took time at the working-level due to our internal procedures,” the spokesperson said.
“We are now ready [for the event] without such concerns and problems, and the negotiation is complete.”
A South Korean delegation visited the DPRK from Tuesday to Thursday last week
The unification ministry insisted, however, that it would be “inappropriate to share the detailed contents of consultations” between Seoul and Pyongyang, declining to explain how South Korea would receive an exemption from, among others, Executive Order 13810, which prohibits vessels and aircraft visiting the North from entering the U.S. for 180 days.
“It can be understood that [both] agreed that only this flight would not infringe the sanctions, for only this case, and for this time only,” Baik told media.
During Monday’s news briefing, the spokesperson said Seoul would not “pay the airport and overflying fee separately” and that the North Korean side will provide “all sorts of convenience including the use of the airport.”
Baik confirmed to media that this would be the first time that a South Korean national carrier has landed at Kalma Airport, on the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula, with last week’s inspection team having used a land route to visit the North.
The two Koreas have traditionally used direct South-North direct flight routes on the western and east coast to conduct inter-Korean business.
The flight reportedly flew to Kalma International Airport in Wonsan without crossing overland military demarcation line (MDL).
A 45-person South Korean delegation, led by director general of the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Bureau at the Ministry of Unification Lee Joo-tae, departed from Yangyang International Airport in the South at 1040 KST.
During Wednesday’s regular news briefing, Baik said the North Korean delegation – composed of both alpine and cross-country skiers as well as officials – will on Thursday accompany the South Korean delegation on their trip back South followed the joint training.
The North Koreans will land at Yangyang International Airport at around 1600 or 1700 KST, Baik added, and move into Gangneung Olympic Village ahead of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which are due to begin next Friday.
Wednesday’s joint training – which was agreed on by a vice-ministerial meeting on January 17 – includes South Korean skiers and the North Korean national squad.
The news that the event will go ahead comes two days after North Korea informed the South Korean government that it was calling off a separate planned joint culture event at Mount Kumgang.
While the two Koreas previously agreed to hold the event next week, Pyongyang on Monday informed Seoul that, due to negative press coverage of the DPRK in South Korea, it no longer wanted to participate.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: InSapphoWeTrust’s Flickr
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