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International relations

North Korean showing adds to Winter Olympics anticipation

Organizers say opening ceremony will express pain of division, desire for peace

Volunteers stand in front of the Olympic rings at the Main Press Center for the Winter Olympics on Jan. 23.   © AP

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- The organizing committee of the upcoming Winter Olympics here said Tuesday that it expects especially intense interest in the event now that North Korea has agreed to participate.

The detente between the two halves of the divided peninsula came abruptly earlier this month when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in his New Year's address that the country wanted to have talks with the South, including participation in Olympics events.

Since then, officials of the two countries have held several meetings on the matter and agreed to create a unified women's hockey team, as well as have both countries' athletes march together under the same "Korean Peninsula flag" in the opening ceremony.

The organizing committee said its opening ceremony will express the pain people feel because of the division of their country and their desire for peace.

"Peace is the most important message, as we are the only divided country in the world," Song Seung-whan, general director of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, told reporters. "We want to let the world know about the pain of division and our desire for peace."

Song Seung-whan, general director of opening and closing ceremonies of the Pyeongchang Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in South Korea, makes a presentation at a press conference in Pyeongchang on Jan. 23. (Photo by Kim Jaewon)

Yang Jung-woong, director of the opening ceremony, said it will be based on a story in which five children find peace through adventure. "It will be like a fairy tale in the winter. It's a fantasy, which children see as a dream."

The current thaw represents a sea change from last year, when Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump exchanged verbal threats, raising military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Kim threatened to target the U.S. mainland with his country's intercontinental ballistic missiles while Trump said he could use military options to snuff out Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

Tuesday's announcement came a few days after the International Olympic Committee agreed that the two Koreas could create a unified women's hockey team to play in the first Winter Olympics hosted by South Korea. The IOC also decided that North Korea could send 22 athletes in three sports and five disciplines. It is the first time North and South Korea will have a unified team in the Olympic Games.

The Olympics start next month, followed by the Paralympic Games in March.

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