• Kyodo

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North Korea will send 51 athletes and officials to the upcoming Winter Asian Games in February, games organizers said Tuesday.

North Korea’s national Olympic committee faxed an official entry list to the organizing committee Tuesday morning — more than two weeks past the official deadline and following repeated delays in completing official entry procedures.

The games will be held over eight days in Aomori Prefecture, beginning Feb. 1.

Pyongyang’s announcement comes amid growing concerns over a nuclear crisis following its withdrawal last week from an international treaty intended to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

The list includes 18 athletes in women’s ice hockey, four in figure skating and seven in short-track speedskating, along with 22 officials.

The delegation will be the first from North Korea in 13 years to participate in the regional version of the Winter Olympics.

Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda welcomed North Korea’s decision.

“The JOC’s stance has been consistent, since Japan hosted the inaugural Winter Asian Games in Sapporo in 1986, to help promote winter sports in Asia. In that sense, we welcome North Korea’s participation,” Takeda said. “I hope the country’s presence in Aomori will contribute to peace in the difficult international situation.”

In addition to North Korea’s recent withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it has threatened to end a moratorium on its missile testing.

“North Korea has no diplomatic relations with Japan and so I hope travel arrangements and everything else will go smoothly for the country’s delegates,” said Tetsuo Oyama, head of the JOC International Commission.

In late October, North Korea notified the organizing committee that it would send 104 delegates to the games. Last month, the number was reduced to 72 after North Korea canceled its entry into the men’s ice hockey tournament.

The final list of 51 shows that the country has also rescinded its plans to compete in Alpine and cross-country skiing, and long-track speedskating.

After North Korea missed the Dec. 31 official deadline for completing entry procedures, the organizing committee repeatedly urged Olympic officials in Pyongyang to speed up the paperwork and set a new deadline of 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Government pleased

North Korea’s decision to send a delegation to the upcoming Winter Asian Games in Aomori Prefecture will contribute to the promotion of friendship in Asia, sports minister Atsuko Toyama said Tuesday.

“I consider the participation of North Korea in the field of sports as a message from that country, which is in a severe situation,” the minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology told a news conference after hearing of Pyongyang’s notification earlier in the day that it would participate in the games.

North Korea’s participation “contributes to promotion of friendship in Asia and is very meaningful. We want to welcome it,” Toyama said.

The eight-day event begins Feb. 1.

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