North Korea's closing Olympics delegation includes man blamed for deadly ship sinking

By Reuters/Christine Kim, Hyonhee Shin   February 22, 2018 | 12:04 am PT
North Korea's closing Olympics delegation includes man blamed for deadly ship sinking
North Korean cheerleaders perform near the Medals Plaza in Pyeongchang, South Korea February 20, 2018. Photo by Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji
Another North Korean high-level delegation are going to head to South Korea.

North Korea will send another high-level delegation to South Korea for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics closing ceremony, officials said on Thursday, including the man blamed for the 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors.

The latest visit by officials from the normally reclusive North will coincide with a U.S. delegation led by President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.

The North Korean delegation will be led by Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the Party Central Committee, and will stay for three days from Sunday, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said in a statement.

Kim Yong Chol is in charge of inter-Korean affairs in the North. He was also chief of the North’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, a top military intelligence body, which Seoul blamed for the deadly sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean navy corvette, in 2010.

The United States and South Korea blacklisted Kim Yong Chol for supporting the North’s nuclear and missile programs in 2010 and 2016 respectively. However, South Korea decided to accept the North’s Olympics delegations for the good of the Games, a presidential official in Seoul said on condition of anonymity.

The official said South Korea had informed the United States of the pending visit and they were in talks about Kim Yong Chol’s entry into the South.

Ri Son Gwon will travel with Kim Yong Chol for the Games closing ceremony. Ri, also involved in inter-Korean affairs, accompanied North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister on her visit for the Games opening ceremony this month.

The eight-member delegation, including six staffers, will travel by road and will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in during their visit, the Blue House official said, without specifying when.

Ivanka Trump will dine with Moon at the Blue House on Friday night and she has no plans to meet North Korean officials, a senior U.S. administration official said.

“There is no official opportunity for them to meet,” the official said.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence attended the Games opening ceremony and had been scheduled to meet Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, before the North Koreans canceled at the last minute, U.S. officials said.

Costly North Korean visit

South Korea spent around 240 million won ($223,237) on Kim Yo Jong and her entourage during their three-day visit, a government official said on Thursday.

The money was mostly spent on accommodation, transport and food for the four delegation officials and their 18 staff members, an official at South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said on condition of anonymity.

Kim Yo Jong and her entourage stayed at the Walkerhill Hotel, a five-star riverside hotel in eastern Seoul. The unification ministry in Seoul did not specify where Kim Yong Chol’s delegation would stay.

The International Olympic Committee paid roughly $50,000 to for the training and preparation of North Korea’s 22 Olympic athletes, or about $2,300 each.

That amount is a fraction of the spending on the rest of the poor, heavily sanctioned North’s main delegation to the Winter Olympics, which included 229 cheerleaders and a 137-strong orchestra.

South Korea’s military contributed to Moon’s efforts for detente months before the delegation visited by dropping Kim Jong Un’s name from propaganda broadcasts blasted across the border into the North, a defense official said.

Kim Yo Jong and the North’s nominal head of state were the most senior officials to visit the South in more than a decade.

The decision to stop using Kim Jong Un’s name in the broadcasts was made by the South’s military late last year out of concern “it could bring about negative sentiment among North Korean citizens”, said an aide to Kim Hack-yong, the head of parliament’s national defense committee.

The broadcasts have since criticized the North’s leadership in a more roundabout way, the aide said, with comments such as: “Too much money being spent on missile launches is leading to difficulties for the people.”

North and South Korea have for years used large loudspeakers to barrage each other with music, news and propaganda, although they are turned off when relations improve.

North Korea has cut the volume of its loudspeaker broadcasts since the Olympics’ opening ceremony on Feb. 9, a South Korean military official stationed at the border said this month.

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