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North, South Korea solidify plan to march together at Olympics

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over a military parade held in Pyongyang to mark the 105th birthday of late founder Kim Il-sung on April 15, 2017. (Yonhap News/Newscom/Zuma Press/TNS)

North and South Korea solidified a plan to march together at next month’s Winter Olympics and agreed to compete with a joint women’s hockey team in a rare show of unity.

With the games to be held in South Korea, the agreement signed Saturday offers a moment of reconciliation during mounting tensions on the Korean peninsula involving Kim Jong Un’s nuclear and missile programs. North and South Korea will enter the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang under a single flag.

“I’m sure it will be a very emotional moment, not just for all Koreans, but also for the entire world,” said Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee. The agreement was in the “true Olympic spirit of respect and friendship,” he said.

The two countries will field a unified women’s hockey team, the first time the two sides will compete as one team. North Korea will send 22 athletes, with 24 coaches and officials, Olympic officials said.

Bach said Olympic organizers have been working since 2014 to reach an agreement for joint participation at the South Korea games. The IOC meeting addressed the number of athletes and officials from North Korea who would attend, as well as make broader decisions on the format of their participation and matters related to protocol such as the flag, anthem, ceremonies and uniforms.

“This was not an easy journey,” Bach said at a news conference after the meeting at Olympics headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Bach said the agreement seemed “impossible only a few weeks ago,” and praised the two governments for coming together. He said he hoped the Olympics would “open the world for a brighter future on the Korean peninsula.”

The two Koreas announced Wednesday their plan to march jointly under one flag when the games start Feb. 9 in the South Korean ski resort of Pyeongchang. In addition to the hockey team, the two countries will conduct some activities in North Korea, including a joint cultural event at Mount Geumgang and training for skiers from both countries at the Masikryong ski resort on the east coast.

It will be the first time the two Koreas have marched together during the opening ceremony of an international sporting event since 2007, and the ninth time overall, according to South Korea. The two Koreas haven’t competed under a single banner since 1991.

While the detente was praised by officials at the United Nations and breaks months of brinkmanship over Kim’s nuclear program, tensions remain. On Wednesday, just as the two countries were announcing the Olympics agreement, a North Korean state-run newspaper also called on South Korea to stop its military drills with the U.S.

©2018 Bloomberg News

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