North Korea said on Monday it will send cheerleaders along with its athletes to the Asian Games in the South as a gesture of peace after weeks of firing rockets and fiery rhetoric.
North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy its neighbour in a sea of flames, is sending 150 athletes to the Games in the South Korean port city of Incheon which begin on September 19.
The two sides are technically still at war after their 1950-53 civil conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
The North’s cheerleaders have proved a huge attraction in rare appearances in the South since the war, with tightly choreographed routines and messages of peace and unification.
“It is necessary to put an end to all kinds of calumnies and vituperation that foster misunderstanding and distrust among the fellow countrymen,” the North said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
“We have decided to dispatch a cheerleading squad along with the athletes to the 17th Asian Games in order to improve relationships between the North and the South and to create an atmosphere of national reconciliation.”
Pyongyang issued another call on Monday for a lowering of military tensions with Seoul, even as leader Kim Jong-un oversaw firing drills on an island near the sensitive maritime border.
A government statement carried by KCNA said it was time to end “reckless hostility and confrontation” and called on Seoul to scrap its annual joint military drills with the United States.
Last week the North’s top military body had called for both sides to halt all hostile military activities – a suggestion Seoul dismissed as “nonsensical” in the light of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.
The latest offer is also likely to receive short shrift, as South Korea has repeatedly made it clear that the annual joint drills are non-negotiable.
North Korea makes periodic peace proposals which are mostly seen as rhetorical devices for international consumption.
The latest statement came as Kim continued a tour of front-line islands with a visit to an islet in the Sea of Japan, or East Sea where, according to KCNA, he watched a firing drill.
On Saturday, Kim had monitored an apparently large-scale army, navy and air force exercise involving a mock assault on a South Korean island.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry said on Monday that North Korea must not repeat “unreasonable” demands. Spokesman Kim Eui-do said the South Korean government supports the successful hosting of the Asian Games and will discuss the North’s plans to send athletes and the cheering team with organisers of the games.
North Korea boycotted the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Summer Olympics, both in Seoul, but attended the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, the 2003 University Games in Daegu and the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon.
At all three events, the North dispatched cheering squads, mostly comprised of young women – called an “army of beauties” in South Korea – which often received more attention than the country’s athletes. Among the 2005 squad was Ri Sol-ju, according to South Korean officials, who later married North Korean leader Kim.
Outside analysts say North Korea seeks to improve ties with South Korea and other countries to help attract foreign investment and aid to revive its economy.
Reuters, Agence France-Presse