THE religious cult known as the Moonies scored one of its rare public relations victories this week, when a church-sponsored dance troupe of 38 young girls completed the first private cultural tour of North Korea in 50 years. The 12-day visit by the Little Angels was hailed as a major step in the gradual thaw in hostilities between the two Koreas, but behind the pancake performance make-up was a more mercantile mission. Beneath the promotional gloss provided by the Unification Church's headline-grabbing mass weddings and oddball philosophy of sexual purification, is one of the world's most business-minded religious sects. Led by 78-year-old founder Reverend Moon Sun-myung, the church has amassed an array of business interests worldwide, including the Washington Times and major South Korean conglomerate Tongil - which means unification in Korean. The Little Angels tour, organised by the church's Korean Cultural Foundation, made historic inroads into the acrid relations between the Korean neighbours. Two of three performances were staged before the regime's leadership, and tour leader Pak Bo-hi met a senior Communist Party secretary in charge of unification issues, Kim Yong-sun. The church says North Korea wants to send a cultural troupe to Seoul in October, making the Little Angels trip the forerunner to a string of cultural exchanges which could help reduce tension on the peninsula. It also provided an opportunity for adult members of the 66-member delegation to jam a corporate foot in the door of opportunity. On his return to Seoul Mr Pak said: 'This is a virgin market, probably the only virgin land left in the world at this time. I think the opportunities are great and the future is great. 'Many [South Korean] businesses will open up contacts in the North. We are one of those groups. But it's not yet time to reveal the scope and the details.' Mr Pak is no stranger to North Koreans. He travelled to Pyongyang in 1994 for the funeral of the North's founding father Kim Il-sung, angering the South Korean Government in the process. That trip followed in the footsteps of Mr Moon, who met Kim Il-sung in 1991 when he asked that the Little Angels be allowed to visit. The church already has a business foothold in the North. It runs Pyongyang's Potongan Hotel and has started work on a tourist resort at the scenic Diamond Mountain district. The church's president for South Korea, Hwang Sun-jo, said Pyongyang had given the go-ahead for a Unification church to be built next to the hotel. 'Other people generally want to get something from North Korea, but we went to genuinely help, to give,' he said. North Korea is a bright spot on the church's horizon. Despite Pyongyang's official atheist stance, the Moonies appear to have been tolerated, perhaps due to Mr Moon's northern heritage. In other countries the church has been buffeted by allegations of brain-washing, kidnapping and tax evasion. The cult's strong Korean nationalism will boost its credentials in North Korea. For years the deeply conservative Mr Moon hit out at communism, but he also believes Korea is the chosen land. In January he proposed Korean as a new global language. 'Within three years everyone in the world should master the Korean language,' he said. Observers have suggested Mr Moon must have offered some sort of incentive to Pyongyang in 1991. 'That's the only explanation for how North Korea changed its violent rhetoric about the Tongil movement. Suddenly we hear that the church has been invited [to North Korea] by the President,' an analyst said.