A North Korean sports delegation will arrive this week to participate in an international ice hockey tournament hosted by South Korea as a test event for the 2018 Winter Olympics amid high cross-border tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile ambitions.
The tournament, which also features the Netherlands, Britain, Slovenia and Australia, is set for April 2-8 in the eastern port city of Gangneung which will host Winter Olympic events next year along with the eastern ski resort of Pyeongchang.
The 30-member North Korean delegation including 20 players will fly into South Korea on Saturday to compete in the International Ice Hockey Federation's Women's World Championship Division II Group, the South's unification ministry said.
Previously, sports games were used to promote inter-Korean reconciliation and exchanges, but this time Seoul downplayed the signification of North Korea's participation in the hockey tournament, which comes on the heels of widespread concerns over North Korea's possible nuclear test.
Seoul has almost suspended all civilian inter-Korean trade and exchanges as part of strengthened international sanctions triggered by North Korea's military provocations including a series of missile and nuclear tests.
However, winter Olympic organizers hope North Korea will send a delegation to next year's Games in Pyeongchang as it did for the 2014 Asian Games in South Korea's western port of Incheon.
South Korean women footballers will hold an inter-Korean match on April 7 in Pyongyang. South Korea were grouped with North Korea, Uzbekistan, Hong Kong and India in Group B for AFC Women's Asian Cup qualifying matches. Along with 10 journalists, a 41-member South Korean delegation including 23 players will visit Pyongyang.
The two Koreas are still technically at war, with each refusing to recognize the other side as an independent state. There have been no official inter-Korean football matches in Pyongyang.
Lim Chang-won = firstname.lastname@example.org