North Korean athletes to arrive for rare visit south

A group of women ice hockey players from North Korea will visit South Korea for an international tournament, local media said Wednesday.

It will be North Korea's first official sporting visit to the South since the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon. Over the last three years, relations have plummeted as the Pyongyang stepped up the development of long-range missiles and nuclear weapons.

The Unification Ministry said North Korea had been given permission to compete in the International Ice Hockey Federation contest in Gangneung from April 2-8, the Yonghap news agency reported.

The two Koreas have technically remained at war since the end of the Korean War in 1953 as no peace treaty was signed. In recent years North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has adopted a belligerent approach to ties between the states.

Sports diplomacy has provided rare opportunities for cooperation -- highlighted when athletes took photographs together at the Rio Olympics last summer.

Twenty North Korean players, 10 coaches and other delegation members will arrive on Saturday via a third country, an unnamed South Korean official told Yonhap.

The federation will reportedly pay the northern players' travel and accommodation costs.

Next week's competition is a test event with less than a year until South Korea sets the stage for the 2018 Winter Olympics. North Korea's participation in the Games is uncertain -- Pyongyang boycotted the Seoul Olympics 1988.

Source: Anadolu Agency