North Korea offers to send high-level delegation to Olympics during talks with South Korea

The North Korean delegation led by Ri Son Gwon crosses the concrete border to attend a meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom. Photograph:( Reuters )

Agencies Seoul, South Korea Jan 09, 2018, 04.55 AM (IST)

North Korea offered to send a high-level delegation to attend next month's Winter Olympics in the South on Tuesday as the two rivals held their first official talks in more than two years, Seoul said.

"The North side proposed dispatching a high-level delegation, National Olympic Committee delegation, athletes, supporters, art performers, observers, a taekwondo demonstration team and journalists to the Games, which will be held in Pyeongchang next month," the South's vice unification minster Chun Hae-Sung told journalists.

The South, meanwhile, proposed holding reunions during next month's Winter Olympics for families divided by the 1950-53 Korean War.

The issue is one of the most emotive legacies of the conflict and the South urged that the meetings be held at the Lunar New Year, which falls in the middle of the Pyeongchang Games, the South's vice unification minister Chun Hae-Sung told journalists.

South Korea also proposed that athletes from the two Koreas march together at the Games' opening ceremony and other joint activities between the two nations during the Games, Chun told reporters.

The talks are being held at Panmunjom, the truce village in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides the peninsula.

The much-awaited talks are a result of Kim Jong-Un New Year's speech in which he held out an olive branch to his neighbours signalling his intention to send his country's athletes to the Winter Games. South Korea was quick to respond to the peace overtures by quickly asking for dialogue between the two countries at a venue acceptable to both.

Seoul's five-member delegation, led by unification minister Cho Myoung-Gyon, travelled to Panmunjom in a convoy of vehicles, passing a group of well-wishers holding a banner at a checkpoint leading towards the DMZ.

The North's group, of similar size and led by senior official Ri Son-Gwon, walked over the Military Demarcation Line at Panmunjom for the talks, pictures showed - just yards from where a defector ran across in a hail of bullets two months ago.

Looking businesslike, Cho and Ri shook hands at the entrance to the Peace House, the building on the southern side where the discussions were being held, and again across the table.

In accordance with standard practice in the North, Ri wore a badge on his left lapel bearing an image of the country`s founding father Kim Il-Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong-Il. Cho also wore a lapel badge, depicting the South Korean flag.

"The people have a strong desire to see the North and South move toward peace and reconciliation," Cho said. It was a radically different tone from the rhetoric of recent months, which have seen Kim and US President Donald Trump trade personal insults and bellicose threats of war, while Pyongyang has launched missiles capable of reaching the US mainland and carried out its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date.