North Korean athletes and officials will be allowed to participate in the 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games later this month as an exception to the entry ban on North Korean citizens, government sources said.
The punitive measure was put in place as part of sanctions for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons tests and rocket launches.
Japan did the same thing last year for North Korea’s women’s soccer team so it could participate in Asia’s final qualifying round in Osaka for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Before issuing entry permits, the government will ask the attending officials to submit identification and documents detailing the background of all involved to confirm the delegation does not include officials from the ruling Workers’ Party or military personnel, the sources said Sunday.
About 20 people, including seven participants in the short-track speed skating and figure skating events, have applied, according to the sources and the organizing committee for the competition.
The North Korean team is expected to arrive in Sapporo via China a few days before the Asian Winter Games kick off on Feb. 19.
“We will admit their entry, if the necessary documents are submitted,” one source said.
A senior Foreign Ministry official said: “One needs to differentiate between politics and sports.”
The games will involve around 2,000 athletes and officials from 32 countries and regions, according to the organizer.
North Korea conducted its fifth and latest nuclear test in September and launched more than 20 ballistic missiles last year, in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.