A North Korean art troupe is set to arrive in South Korea by ferry Tuesday on a rare trip for performances to celebrate the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
The 140-member Samjiyon art troupe aboard the North Korean ship Mangyongbong-92 is scheduled to arrive at the South's Mukho port on the east coast around 5:00 p.m., according to Seoul's unification ministry.
North Korean vessels are not allowed to visit South Korea under Seoul's unilateral sanctions banning inter-Korean exchanges, which were imposed on May 24, 2010 to punish the North's sinking of a South Korean warship.
But the government has decided to make the art troupe's sea travel for the Winter Games an exception to the sanctions.
The two Koreas have engaged in a flurry of sports diplomacy after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un extended a rare olive branch to Seoul in his New Year's message after a year of tensions sparked by the North's nuclear and missile provocations.
The North's art troupe, which includes an orchestra, dancers and singers, plans to perform in Gangneung, a sub-host city of the Feb. 9-25 Games, on Thursday and in Seoul on Sunday.
Hyon Song-wol, the head of the all-female Moranbong Band, will lead the Samjiyon art troupe. The band was created by an order of Kim Jong-un and features Western-style music and outfits, but it is not known whether other members of the band are included in the art troupe.
Hyon, an alternate member of the central committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), visited the South last month to check performance venues in the two cities.
North Korea's state-run radio station reported Tuesday that the art troupe left Pyongyang a day earlier for the eastern port city of Wonsan to visit the South on the ferry.
Wearing red coats and black fur hats, female members of the group showed up at a train station in Pyongyang, a photo released by North Korea's news agency showed.
The report said the group was greeted by senior party officials including Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of Kim Jong-un, and Pak Kwang-ho, the director of the WPK's propaganda and agitation department.
The Mangyongbong-92 is a 9,700 ton cargo-passenger ferry that is named after a hill in Pyongyang near the birthplace of late founder Kim Il-sung.
It transported the North's cheering squad for the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, the South's southern port city. It was also used to accommodate the cheerleaders.
The ferry will be used as the art troupe's accommodations when it holds the concert in Gangneung.
Details about the performances have not been made public, but the North informed the South last week that many South Korean songs will be included in the programs.