SEOUL – North Korea said Monday it will send an official cheering squad to support its athletes at the upcoming Asian Games in South Korea.
In a statement, it said the gesture is aimed at promoting reconciliation between the rivals. The games are scheduled from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4 in the city of Incheon.
Meanwhile, the North repeated a demand that the two Koreas halt a cross-border slanging match and that Seoul scrap military drills with Washington planned for August. North Korea routinely calls such exercises a prelude to invasion; Seoul and Washington call them defensive.
North Korea has made similar demands in the past, saying they would reduce tension, but South Korea has responded by demanding that the North first take steps toward nuclear disarmament.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Monday that North Korea must not make “unreasonable” demands.
Spokesman Kim Eui-do told reporters the government wants the Asian Games to be a success and will discuss the North’s plan to send athletes and a team of official cheerleaders.
North Korea boycotted the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Summer Olympics, both in Seoul, but attended the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, the 2003 University Games in Daegu and the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon.
In all three events, the North dispatched cheering squads, mostly comprising young women — admired in South Korea as an “army of beauties” — which often received more attention than the country’s athletes.
In the 2005 squad was Ri Sol Ju, now the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, South Korean officials have said.
The North’s statement provided no details of the cheering squad earmarked for the Incheon games.
Analysts say North Korea wants to improve ties with South Korea and other countries to help attract foreign investment and aid to revive its economy. The country launched volleys of missiles ahead of a visit by China’s new president, Xi Jinping, to South Korea last week, in what analysts say was a protest at Xi’s decision to visit the South before the North. He was the first leader to do so.
Meanwhile, Monday’s proposals were attributed to “the government of DPRK,” a reference to the Democratic Republic of Korea, the North’s official name. South Korean media said that meant it was a statement by the highest level of government.
The two Koreas have faced off with each other across the world’s most heavily fortified border since the Korean War ended without a peace treaty.