North Korea threatens to skip Asian Games after talks on inclusion falter
Southern official says Seoul mystified by North's 'unilateral walkout' of talks on its participation
Associated Press in Seoul
North Korea yesterday threatened to pull out of September's Asian Games in South Korea, blaming Seoul for the breakdown of talks to negotiate Pyongyang's participation.
The North's official KCNA news agency said the talks in the border village of Panmunjom on Thursday had turned sour following what it suggested was the intervention of the presidential Blue House in Seoul.
After a long delay, the South began the afternoon session with a series of "absurd" demands that overturned all the agreements the two sides made in the morning, KCNA said.
As well as raising concerns over the number of North Korean athletes and cheerleaders, the South sought to place restrictions on the size of the North Korean flag to be displayed at the games, the agency said.
Another apparent point of contention was who would foot the bill for the Northern delegation during its stay in South Korea.
Seoul reportedly wants to break from its tradition of financially supporting visiting sporting delegations from the North, to move into line with international sporting standards.
According to KCNA, the North Korean side saw the South's attitude as a "deliberate act" to scupper the talks.
"It clarified that if the South side insists on such a defiant attitude, it will fundamentally re-examine its participation in the Games," the news agency said.
The Asian Games are to be held from September 19 to October 4 in the South Korean port city of Incheon.
The North said in May it would send about 150 athletes, adding later that they would be accompanied by a cheering squad.
The Panmunjom meeting was ostensibly aimed at hashing out the practicalities of how the North's delegation would travel to Incheon and where it would be accommodated.
It was the first meeting between the two sides at Panmunjom for five months, and comes at a time of simmering tensions following an unusually extended series of North Korean rocket and missile tests.
The talks ended with no agreement for another round.
South Korea has yet to comment formally on the outcome of the meeting, but a government official who declined to be identified said the North's "unilateral walkout" had mystified Seoul.
"We never raised any issue with their numbers. We just wanted to know the breakdown of the delegation and the cheerleaders' group," the official told reporters.
He confirmed that the South had mentioned following international standards over expenses, but stressed that the issue was still open to negotiation.
"North Korea is distorting what happened as a negotiating tactic," he added.
Because the 1950-1953 Korean conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas technically remain at war.
Official contact between them is minimal and movement across the heavily militarised border extremely restricted.
Pyongyang boycotted the 1988 Olympics in Seoul but sent athletes and cheerleaders to the 2002 Asian Games in South Korea's southern city of Busan.