UPDATE : 2018.11.19 MON 10:10
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N. Korean delegation in S. Korea to inspect concert venues

A North Korean delegation arrived in Gangnueng, an eastern South Korean city, Sunday to check the venues for its proposed art performances at next month's PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

The trip came amid brisk inter-Korean contact on the North's participation in the Olympic Games to open in three weeks.

The seven-member team is led by Hyon Song-wol, head of the North's Samjiyon Orchestra, and known as one of the most influential women in the secretive communist nation.

She also serves as director of the Moranbong Band, the country's well-known all-female musical group, reportedly created at the order of leader Kim Jong-un. There's a rumor that she is an ex-girlfriend of Kim.

Hyon Song-wol, head of a North Korean delegation, arrives at Seoul Station on Jan. 21, 2018. (Yonhap)

Hyon, wearing a dark coat and a fur muffler, arrived at Seoul Station around 10:22 a.m. and boarded a KTX bullet train bound for Gangneung, 260 kilometers east of the capital.

Asked about her impression of the trip here by a pool reporter of the Ministry of Unification press corps, she just smiled and didn't give an answer.

Hyon and her delegation members were tightly guarded by South Korean police and state intelligence officials, with an army of local and foreign media crowding the station to cover their visit.

South Korean people welcome a North Korean delegation at the Gangneung Station on Jan. 21, 2018. (Yonhap)

It took about two hours for the North Koreans to reach Gangneung, the first leg of their two-day, two-stop visit.

They plan to inspect the stage, audio system and other conditions for the upcoming performance, discussing its schedule and program.

In Gangneung, the North Koreans will likely tour the Gangneung Arts Center and visit another candidate site in Seoul on Monday. The construction of the 998-seat Gangneung concert hall finished a months ago.

Earlier in the day, the North's delegation crossed the land border via the Gyeongui Line, becoming the first North Koreans to travel to the South since the launch of the Moon Jae-in administration in May last year.

It's also the first time that the inter-Korean route has been used since the shutdown of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in early 2016.

Several South Korean officials greeted the North Koreans at the customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) office at Dorasan Station, just south of the border.

The North has agreed to join the Olympics slated for Feb. 9-25 and the 10-day Paralympics that start on March 9, which will be staged in the South's eastern towns of PyeongChang and Gangneung.

It plans to send a 140-member art performance group, consisting of an orchestra, singers and dancers, for concerts in Seoul and Gangneung.

North Koreans enjoy ski at Masikryong Ski Resort in this photo released by the country's media. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

The two Koreas will exchange visits of working-level officials later this week to continue consultations on issues related to the North's participation in the Olympics and the ensuing Paralympics.

A dozen South Korean officials are scheduled to make a three-day visit starting Tuesday to the Mount Kumgang area and Masikryong Ski Resort in the North's eastern area.

The North accepted the South's offer to send the advance team as part of its plan to stage a joint cultural event in the Mount Kumgang region, according to the Ministry of Unification. Their skiers will train together at the ski compound as well.

The North also informed the South of a plan to dispatch an eight-member delegation, led by a deputy director general at its sports ministry, on Thursday, it added.

The North's team hopes to look around Olympic facilities, such as stadiums, lodgings and the press center. (Yonhap)

Kim Sua  edt@koreapost.com

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