A 65-member North Korean delegation, mostly composed of labor union members, plans to visit South Korea next month to participate in two inter-Korean workers’ soccer matches, the ROK organizing committee announced on Thursday.
Two of South Korean leading labor unions, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), in cooperation with the North’s General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea (GFTUK), have agreed to hold two soccer matches in Seoul.
The inter-Korean workers’ soccer games will be held at 1600 local time on August 11 at the Seoul World Cup Stadium, followed by a farewell banquet at the five-star Grand Walkerhill hotel.
The DPRK side has informed ROK counterparts that the 65 delegates are scheduled to travel to the South between August 10 and 12 to take part in a “unification soccer match of South and North Korean workers.”
The delegation also includes GFTUK members, Chairman Ju Yong Gil, and representatives from the North Side Committee for Implementing June 15 Joint Declaration.
When asked if the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) had granted permission for their visit, a KCTU spokesperson told NK News the DPRK side is yet to provide the personal information of the delegation members.
Should the Moon administration give the green light to the North Korean labor group, it will be the first of its kind since 2007, when around 60 North Koreans, including GFTUK members, traveled to the South to participate in pep rallies.
With the aim of encouraging unity between North and South Korean workers, inter-Korean events were held in April and May 2007 in Changwon city, South Gyeongsang Province.
The DPRK delegation previously flew to Busan’s Gimhae International Airport from Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport.
Thursday saw the organizing committee say 65 North Korean delegates will cross the inter-Korean border via an overland route on the west coast.
Inter-Korean workers’ soccer matches were previously held three times: in Pyongyang in 1999 and 2015 and in Changwon, ROK in 2007.
North and South Korean labor unions agreed to hold a football match in Seoul in 2016 following games in Pyongyang in October the previous year, though the plan had been put on hold due to strained relations.
Plans to hold inter-Korean soccer matches were first announced following a visit to the North by the South Korean committee for the Implementation for the June 15 Joint Declaration in June.
Although the committee told NK News that there was a “high chance that the plan will be realized,” there were reportedly difficulties in the negotiations: the South Korean unification ministry would not allow the KCTU vice-chairman to visit Pyongyang.
An MOU official at the time said Seoul had taken into account “the purpose of the visit to North Korea, the characteristics of the event, the consultation with relevant organizations, an influence on inter-Korean relations” in making its decision to reject the visit.
In a statement on Thursday, the ROK organizer stressed that this would be the first inter-Korean event at civilian level held since South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s signing of the Panmunjom Declaration in April.
That agreement saw the two Koreas agree to “encourage the atmosphere of amity and cooperation by actively staging various joint events” with participation at all levels “including central and local governments, parliaments, political parties, and civil organizations.”
Seoul and Pyongyang have boosted inter-Korean exchanges since then, with a 34-member North Korean squad scheduled to arrive in the ROK this Sunday for joint training to prepare for upcoming Asian Games.
The DPRK delegation is set to arrive at Incheon International Airport via Beijing.
The two Koreas are set to field three joint teams – in women’s basketball, canoeing, and rowing – at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang in Indonesia between August 18 and September 2.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Uriminzokkiri
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