• Monday, Sep 24, 2018
  • Last Update : 04:53 pm

North Korea calls for unity with South as hockey players begin Olympics training

  • Published at 08:59 pm January 25th, 2018
  • Last updated at 09:11 pm January 25th, 2018
North Korea calls for unity with South as hockey players begin Olympics training

A delegation of North Korean officials and ice hockey players crossed the heavily guarded border into South Korea on Thursday for joint Olympics training, as Pyongyang called for all Koreans to seek unification of the two nations.

The group included 12 North Korean players who will form a combined women's ice hockey team with their southern counterparts at next month's Winter Olympics in the South Korean mountain resort of Pyeongchang.

After going through South Korean checkpoints at the border, the team travelled to a national training centre in Jincheon, 90km south of Seoul.

Stepping off a bus, the athletes ignored questions as they were mobbed by throngs of media.

They wore puffy winter jackets in the white, blue, and red colours of North Korea's flag, with "DPR Korea" emblazoned on the back, referring to the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The athletes were met in Jincheon with flowers from their South Korean counterparts, as well as head coach Sarah Murray, who previously had called the government's decision to form a joint team a "tough situation."

Under an agreement worked out during the first official talks between the two Koreas in two years, the joint team will wear unity jerseys and march under a unified peninsula flag at the Games' opening ceremony on February 9.

South Korea has prepared "all contingency scenarios" in case North Korea makes any provocative moves during the Olympics, but the games remain an opportunity for "peaceful engagement," South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "We just need to make the best of it."

Early on Thursday, North Korea sent a rare announcement addressed to "all Koreans at home and abroad," saying they should make a "breakthrough" for unification without the help of other countries, its state media said.

All Koreans should "promote contact, travel, cooperation between North and South Korea" while adding Pyongyang will "smash" all challenges against reunification of the Korean peninsula.

North and South Korea remain technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty. Tensions escalated dramatically last year as the regime of Kim Jong Un stepped up its programme aimed at developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the United States.