SEOUL — North Korea’s ceremonial head of state will visit the South this week and attend the Winter Olympics opening ceremony as the divided peninsula witnesses a rare thaw after a year of high tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.
Kim Yong-Nam will be the most senior official from the North for years to travel to the other side of the Demilitarised Zone that has divided the two Koreas for decades.
His trip will be the diplomatic high point of the rapprochement between the two Koreas triggered by the Pyeongchang Olympics in the South, which have their opening ceremony on Friday.
Tensions spiralled last year as the North carried out multiple weapons tests, including intercontinental ballistic missiles it says are capable of reaching the mainland United States, and its most powerful nuclear blast to date.
For months Pyongyang ignored Seoul’s entreaties to take part in a "peace Olympics", until leader Kim Jong-Un indicated his willingness to do so in his New Year speech.
That set off a rapid series of meetings which saw the two agree to march together at the opening ceremony and form a unified women’s ice hockey team, their first for 27 years.
The North’s Olympic participation would include a visit by a high-level delegation, they agreed.
It will be led by Kim Yong-Nam, who is leader of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the North’s ruling party-controlled parliament, Seoul’s unification ministry said in a statement late on Sunday.
The North’s state-run news agency KCNA said the high-level delegation led by Kim Yong-Nam would "soon visit south Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics".
Kim - who is not a close blood relative of leader Kim Jong-Un – will arrive on Friday for a three-day visit, accompanied by three other officials and 18 support staff, the ministry said it had been told by Pyongyang. — AFP