UPDATE : 2018.9.25 TUE 18:42
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N.K. to send 140-member art troupe to S. Korea during Winter Olympics

North Korea agreed Monday to send a 140-member art troupe including an orchestra to South Korea during next month's PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

The North's Samjiyon band, consisting of an 80-member orchestra, singers and dancers, will hold concerts in Seoul and Gangneung, a sub-host city of the games, 240 kilometers east of Seoul, according to South Korea's unification ministry. Gangneung will host ice sports during the Winter Games.

The agreement was reached during working-level talks at the border truce village of Panmunjom.

The meeting was a follow-up to last week's high-level talks during which North Korea agreed to send a delegation of athletes, ranking officials, an art troupe and others, to the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Olympics in the South.

The move comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un extended a rare offer of rapprochement to Seoul in his New Year's speech following a series of nuclear and missile tests.

"North Korea said that programs will likely consist of folk songs and masterpieces that fit the theme of unification and are well known to both South and North Koreans," Lee Woo-sung, the South's chief delegate, told reporters.

The band, believed to have been formed in the late 2000s, mainly performed for visiting high-profile foreign guests in the North, he added.

It would be North Koreans' first performance in the South since 2002, when Pyongyang sent a cohort of 30 singers and dancers from several music and performance groups to Seoul for a joint event.

"The two sides plan to discuss details including the venue, stage conditions and other matters through consultations," a joint statement said. "In this regard, the North will send an advance inspection team at an early date."

The government will do its best to help the performance improve inter-Korean ties and restore cultural unity, it added.

A ministry official said that the North has requested the use of a land route across the border at the truce village. The South agreed to guarantee safety and convenience for the North's art troupe.

This photo, provided by Seoul's unification ministry on Jan. 15, 2018, shows South and North Korea's holding of working-level talks on the North's plan to send an art troupe to the South during next month's PyeongChang Winter Olympics. (Yonhap)

"We believe that a great symphony will be enthusiastically received. In that sense, we hope that the talks could go smoothly so as to help our art troupe perform well in the South," Kwon Hyok-bong, the North's chief delegate, said at the start of the meeting.

South Korea's four-member delegation was led by Lee Woo-sung, a senior official at the Seoul's culture ministry.

Kwon is the former head of the North's Unhasu Orchestra and current director of the performing arts bureau at the culture ministry. Its delegation also includes Hyon Song-wol, the leader of the all-female Moranbong Band.

The Moranbong Band was established in July 2012 by the North's leader Kim Jong-un, featuring Western-style music and outfits.

The band is known for their performances of the totalitarian state's propaganda songs, as well as Western pop music, including the theme song of the film "Rocky."

Experts said that North Korea could use music performances to soften its image under international sanctions that were imposed over the North's nuclear and missile provocations.

On Sunday, the North condemned President Moon Jae-in for crediting U.S. President Donald Trump for helping open up inter-Korean talks.

In a thinly veiled threat, North Korea also said that it can roll back its decision to join the Olympics, saying, "They should know that the train and bus carrying our delegation to the Olympics are still in Pyongyang."

The Koreas also agreed to hold working-level talks on the North's participation in the games on Wednesday. Seoul proposed the talks on Monday, but the North instead wanted to hold a meeting on the art troupe.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) plans to hold a meeting with officials from the two Koreas on Saturday in Lausanne, Switzerland, to discuss details of the North's participation.

Last week, the South proposed the Koreas' athletes marching together at the opening ceremony, which the North is said to be "positively" considering. Seoul also proposed assembling a joint women's hockey team for the Olympics. The IOC is reviewing the idea.

The two sides are expected to discuss the North Koreans' travel route, accommodations and other logistics. Seoul said that it agrees to provide necessary support for the North's delegation. (Yonhap)

Kim Jung-mi  edt@koeapost.com

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