UPDATE : 2018.6.23 SAT 01:43
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S. Korean team returns after checking venues for joint events in N.K.

An advance team of South Korean officials returned home from North Korea on Thursday after inspecting venues for joint events on the occasion of next month's PyeongChang Winter Olympics in the South.

A 12-member team led by Lee Joo-tae, director-general at Seoul's unification ministry, came back to the South via an eastern land route after a three-day inspection of facilities at Mount Kumgang, a ski resort and an airfield along the east coast.

Signs of a thaw in inter-Korean ties are growing after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed a willingness to send a delegation to the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games in his New Year's speech.

The two Koreas agreed last week to hold joint cultural events at Mt. Kumgang and conduct skiing training for their non-Olympic athletes at Masikryong Ski Resort near the eastern town of Wonsan before the Olympics.

The advance team also visited Kalma Airport, a military airfield, to check whether it can be used to fly in South Korean skiers to the North Korean ski resort.

"The North helped us proceed smoothly with the inspection," Lee told a group of reporters after arrival. "The government will announce details tomorrow. The two Koreas will consult with each other by exchanging documents, as we don't have much time," he said.

The use of Masikryong Ski Resort sparked a heated debate here, as critics say that the joint exercise could promote the ski resort, one of Kim Jong-un's pet projects.

The ski resort, which opened in December 2013, was built with imports of luxury items banned under U.N. sanctions resolutions, including snowmobiles and other high-end goods.

"We've not been yet informed of possible problems the resort would have in hosting joint skiing training," a ministry official said earlier in the day, when asked about conditions of the ski facilities there.

At the airport, North Korea staged a major firing drill on April 25, 2017, to mark the 85th anniversary of the founding of its military. The North fired intermediate-range Musudan missiles from the same place in June 2016.

Seoul has vowed to fully enforce a set of U.N. sanctions when it prepares for the Winter Games.

Kim Su-a  edt@koreapost.com

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