• Reuters


South Korea approved on Wednesday the use of 2.86 billion won ($2.64 million) to bankroll the cost of hosting hundreds of visiting North Koreans during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

The Ministry of Unification said the funds will pay for accommodations and food for North Korea’s cheering squad, orchestra, taekwondo performers, journalists and other supporting personnel visiting South Korea. The group totals 424 North Koreans.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in invited North Korean athletes, supporters and officials to the Olympics in an attempt to lower months of tension between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

A final number for the total payment of all the North Koreans who visited during the Olympics will be disclosed later, said ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun in a briefing.

Costs for hosting the high-level official delegation, which included Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, were paid for separately from the government budget, Baik added without disclosing details.

The International Olympics Committee will foot the bill for the 22 North Korean athletes participating in the games.

Travel between the two Koreas has been impossible without the approval of both governments since the 1950-53 war, which divided the peninsula and ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

Wednesday’s number far exceeds the 1.35 billion won that was used to pay for the 650 North Koreans who visited South Korea in 2002 for the Asian Games in the port city of Busan.

The smaller amount in 2002 was partly due to the North Koreans’ cheering squad staying and eating on the ferry they arrived in, a ministry official said.

Inflation also contributed to the higher number.

The biggest portion of the funds, about 1.2 billion won, will be used for accommodations and food, the official said. Roughly 1 billion won will be used to pay for entrance fees for Olympics venues and 100 million won has been set aside for transportation costs.

Most of the North Korean delegation stayed at luxury hotels in Seoul or near Olympic venues throughout their visit, including the five-star Grand Walkerhill in western Seoul, which has previously hosted celebrities including Paris Hilton and Michael Jackson.

The budget for the North Koreans’ stay will be withdrawn from the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund, part of the Unification Ministry’s spending budget. The fund was created in 1991 for North Korea-related expenditures, and its total 2018 budget is 962.4 billion won.

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