Seoul (AFP) – A South Korean delegation crossed into the North Tuesday to inspect venues for joint Olympic-linked events, even as controversy over the rapprochement mounted and Pyongyang condemned demonstrators who burned Kim Jong-Un’s image as “traitors”.
The two Koreas agreed earlier that the North’s athletes would attend next month’s Pyeongchang Winter Games in the South, form a joint women’s ice hockey team and march together at the opening ceremony.
The two nations also agreed Southern skiers would train with their counterparts from the North at its Masikryong ski resort, and for a joint cultural event at the scenic Mt Kumgang north of the border.
There have since been a flurry of preparatory missions, and the group of 12 Seoul officials are expected to spend three days in the North.
It is the first visit to the North by Seoul officials for nearly two years, according to the South’s Yonhap news agency.
Seoul and the Games organisers have sought to promote Pyeongchang as a “Peace Olympics” to open a door for dialogue with the nuclear-armed North, which has traded threats with the US over the past year.
But President Moon Jae-In’s peace efforts have drawn pushback at home as many accuse him of using athletes for political purposes and making too many concessions to his hostile neighbour.
A group of right-wing activists went as far as setting the North’s national flag and Kim’s image on fire at a rally in Seoul on Monday, prompting a denunciation by Pyongyang.
They were “traitors and psychopaths” whose actions amounted to “defaming the dignity of the supreme leadership”, said Ri Myong, of the Democratic Front for the Reunification of Korea, which is linked to the authorities in the North.
“They are, indeed, human scum obsessed with pro-US sycophancy and confrontation with… fellow countrymen,” said the statement, carried by the state news agency KCNA.
The Southern delegation’s visit came a day after a group of Pyongyang officials ended a rare trip to the South to prepare for planned concerts by the North’s artistic troupes during the Games — also a part of the inter-Korea deal.
The trip — led by the leader of the North’s popular Moranbong girlband — was the first time Pyongyang officials had visited the South for four years.
Another team of North Korean officials is also set to arrive in Seoul on Thursday to check logistics for its athletes and other representatives attending the Games.
The isolated, impoverished North is under multiple layers of sanctions imposed for a series of nuclear and missile tests it has conducted in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.