Update at 1615 KST: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that the delegation has been confirmed to have arrived in the DPRK capital.
A South Korean delegation arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday for a series of inter-Korean basketball games, the first of their kind in 15 years.
The group, led by unification minister Cho Myoung-gyon and comprised of 101 basketball players, press corps, broadcasting team, and officials, is scheduled to stay in North Korea until Friday.
Their visit to the DPRK capital will, notably, coincide with a trip by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is set to visit Pyongyang on Friday and meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The ROK delegation arrived in Sunan International Airport at 1110 local time, the ROK Press Pool in Pyongyang reported.
DPRK vice-minister of Physical Culture and Sports Won Kil U greeted them at the airport and held a brief conversation with the South Korean unification minister.
Won reportedly “sent his warmest congratulations” on their visit, adding the inter-Korean unification basketball match will be held “with deep interest of the North and South Korean leaders and at the direct suggestion of comrade chairman of State Affairs Commission.”
“I’ve met South Korean officials several times,” Won told pool reporters. “The more I meet them, I feel more intimate with them and the desire for unification become stronger.”
“I feel proud that sports are leading the way in opening up the path toward inter-Korean reconciliation and peace and prosperity,” he said, adding it was “meaningful” that the unification minister was leading the delegation.
The Ministry of Unification (MOU) on Monday announced a total of 50 basketball players would go North, with most members of the ROK national teams. The team is split evenly between the men’s and women’s squads and they are accompanied by Korea Basketball Association officials.
Athletes from the two Koreas will hold four games in total, with two mixed and two “goodwill” matches, on Wednesday and Thursday.
For the mixed matches, North and South Korean basketball players will be combined and organized into two teams called “Team Peace” and “Team Prosperity.”
The goodwill matches will see the two sides organized into “Team Blue” and “Team Red,” and the unification ministry has explained the two Koreas have decided not to use their national flags and anthem.
The MOU on Tuesday said the venue for the four matches was yet to be decided, however, though the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium and the Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong Gymnasium have been touted as potential locations.
The July 4 match will commemorate the anniversary of the 1972 joint communiqué, the first agreement signed by the two Koreas since the division of the peninsula.
It will be first of their kind since October 2003, when a game was held to mark the opening of Pyongyang’s Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong Gymnasium – named after the Hyundai Group’s billionaire founder.
The two Koreas previously hosted two so-called “unification basketball tournaments” in September and December 1999 in Pyongyang and Seoul.
Though the idea of resuming inter-Korean basketball matches was specifically raised by Kim Jong Un in April, it’s unclear whether the DPRK leader will attend this weeks’ games.
Tuesday saw the South Korean delegation fly to Pyongyang on two C130H military aircraft through a direct route on the western coast, according to the MOU.
Seoul “considered operating civil aircraft,” the ministry said, “but it used two military aircraft in coordination with relevant organizations.”
The decision was made “taking into consideration the tight schedule and conditions, as well various procedures including arrangement, contract, and international sanctions.”
South Korean reporters going to the North to cover the dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear ground in May, however, used a government-owned plane.
Meanwhile, four more senior officials with recent experience in inter-Korean talks were also dispatched to Pyongyang.
In addition to the unification minister, Second Vice Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Roh Tae-kang and President of Korean Sport & Olympic Committee Lee Kee-Heung were among the group arriving in the North Korean capital on Tuesday.
Accompanying them were Deputy Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office Ahn Moon-hyun and Director General for Inter-Korean Exchange & Cooperation at the MOU Lee Joo-tae.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Ministry of Unification
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