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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North Korea’s Mangyongbong-92 ferry arrived at South Korea’s Mukho Port late Tuesday afternoon, carrying a group of DPRK musicians and their entourage.
The ship’s visit to the ROK is its first in 16 years, with Seoul having granted the vessel a special exemption from South Korea’s May 24 sanctions.
The 140-member Samjiyon Orchestra will perform on Thursday at the Gangneung Art Center and on Sunday at the National Theater of Korea’s Haeoreum Grand Theater in Seoul – performances intended to celebrate renewed inter-Korean dialogue this year.
The Mangyongbong-92 entered the port, which is situated in Gangwon Province on the peninsula’s east coast, at around 1630 local time.
Authorities temporarily prohibited aircraft from flying in the vicinity of the ship half an hour before its arrival.
The Ministry of Unification (MOU) said the measure was taken to “secure the safety of the North Korean art troupe and transportation,” and confirmed to media that the ship was carrying 114 members of the North Korean art troupe and supporting staff.
The arrival of the ship was met with protests, however: members of the far-right Korean Patriots Party gathered at the port and burnt a photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the DPRK national flag, and a Korean unification flag in opposition to its arrival.
North Korea has taken issue with these relatively minor protests in the past, releasing a statement in January urging Seoul to apologize for allowing an anti-North rally in Seoul during a preliminary visit by a DPRK delegation.
While precedence suggested the delegation would disembark for an opening ceremony upon arrival, it emerged at 1900 KST that the group would be staying onboard for the next few hours.
A 23-member advance team of the orchestra crossed into the South on Monday afternoon via the overland Gyeongui Line.
As South Korean laws prohibit the entry of DPRK vessels into South Korean waters, Seoul was forced to grant an exemption to the North Korean ferry.
“The ROK Government has decided to allow the entrance of Mangyongbong-92 to the Mukho Port as an exception of the ‘5.24 measures’ to support the successful hosting of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics,” the MOU said Monday night in a written statement.
The art troupe departed Pyongyang on Monday accompanied by department director of the Ministry of Culture Kwon Hyok Bong and head of the Samjiyon Orchestra Hyon Song Wol, the Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), reported on Tuesday.
The Samjiyon Orchestra headed to Wonsan by train before departing on the passenger ferry at Wonsan port.
Member of the Presidium and vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the WPK, Pak Kwang Ho, and Deputy Director of the WPK Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD), Kim Yo Jong, reportedly saw them off at Pyongyang station.
Pyongyang has told Seoul that the Mangyongbong-92 ferry will be used for board and lodging during the days the art troupe is in Gangneung.
At Tuesday’s closed-door briefing, an official at unification ministry reportedly told local media outlets that Seoul would provide food, fuel, and electricity in accordance with precedent established during the visit of a 288-member DPRK cheering squad to the South on the Mangyongbong-92 in 2002.
But the MOU requested a correction to press, saying that food, fuels, and electricity were simply examples of how they might ensure convenience for the Mangyongbong-92, and would not necessarily be provided.
“These were mentioned in the process of explaining the issue of providing convenience based on the South-North agreement,” the ministry said. “The North hasn’t made any request currently and the details of offering convenience haven’t been decided.”
The unification ministry said they will “closely consult with the international community including the U.S.” to avoid any sanctions breaches in Seoul’s interactions with the North Koreans.
The passenger ferry crossed the de facto eastern maritime border at 0950 KST and sailed at its maximum speed of 13 knots (24.076 km/hour), later sailing under the guidance of the South Korean convoy.
A 280-member delegation will also arrive in South Korea on Wednesday morning via the land route of the Gyeongui Line.
The group will be made up of four officials of the DPRK’s National Olympic Committee (NOC), including minister of Physical Culture and Sports Kim Il Guk, a 229-member cheering squad, 26 Taekwondo demonstrators, and a press corps comprised of 21 reporters.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Clay Gilliland’s Flickr