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North Korean delegation enters Olympic Village

February 8, 2018

The playing of the North Korean anthem is something that is normally not allowed in South Korea. But the North's Olympic delegation has been welcomed to the Olympic Village with a boisterous ceremony.

Südkorea Pyeongchang 2018
Image: picture-alliance/AP Images/Yomiuri Shimbun

As North Korea's national flag was raised at the Olympic Village in Gangneung on Thursday, it was a sign of tentative and possibly temporary reconciliation between the bitter neighbors.

With tensions higher than usual towards the end of last year amid concerns over North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's nuclear intentions, the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics has provided a platform to thaw frosty relations.

The North has sent a 46-strong delegation to Pyeongchang, including 22 athletes for the Games, and the two countries have agreed to march under a single flag at the opening ceremony on Friday.

Screenshot Instagram Eiskunstläufer Links: Kam Alex Chan (Südkorea), Kim Ju Sik (Nordkorea)
Image: Instagram/alex_kambam

Athletes have also been able to mingle and train with their neighbors, such as ice skaters Kam Alex Chan (South) Kim Ju Sik (North), who snapped a selfie together, while a joint women's ice hockey team is to compete in Pyeongchang.

North Korean flag raised, anthem played

In South Korea, the North's flag and its national anthem are normally banned. But on Thursday the North's Olympic delegation were welcomed with both at the Olympic Village.

And after a nervy start to the ceremony, North Korea's all-female marching band broke the ice, busting out Korean folk songs, which soon had the North Korean athletes dancing in the street.

They were soon joined by South Korea volunteers, creating a rare sight in Gangneung.

"I was a little scared because they were just clapping and so serious in the beginning," 15-year-old South Korean volunteer Jeon Moon-kyung said. "But later they enthusiastically asked us to dance together."

It is a far cry from the 1986 Asian Games and 1988 Summer Olympics, both held in Seoul, which North Korea boycotted.

And while there has been criticism from protesters about North Korea's presence in the South, with some suggesting the Games have been hijacked by Pyongyang, the South Korean government believes the gestures could help ease tensions between the countries.

When the North and South Korean teams march side by side under a single flag at the opening ceremony on Friday, it will be another example of what the so-called Olympic spirit is supposed to represent. Whether this spirit will extend beyond the Winter Games is another question entirely.

JS/pfd (dpa,AFP)