GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Ten North Korean skaters and skiers arrived in rival South Korea on Thursday for the PyeongChang Olympics.
The North Koreans are the second and final batch of 22 athletes from their country who received invitations from the International Olympic Committee.
A dozen North Korean female hockey players came last week to form a joint team with South Korean athletes, the first unified Korean team in the Olympics. North Korea originally had no athletes qualified for the Games.
A 32-member North Korean delegation including the 10 athletes, their coaches and Vice Sports Minister Won Kil U arrived in South Korea by air.
They flew on a South Korean flight that also brought back South Korean non-Olympic skiers who had visited a North Korean ski resort this week.
It is extremely unusual for North Koreans to travel aboard a South Korean plane, with most past visits, including the hockey players’ arrival, made across the heavily fortified land border.
Greeted by a barrage of camera flashes, the North Koreans — men dressed in navy blue coats and women in red coats, both wearing fur hats — didn’t speak much at the South Korean airport and later at the athletes’ village in the eastern city of Gangneung.
But some smiled and waved their hands to journalists at the athletes’ village. One said, “Nice to meet you!”
The 10 athletes are to compete in Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, figure skating and short track speed skating.
The Koreas have been planning several conciliatory gestures during the Games, including having their athletes parade together with a single “unification flag” depicting their peninsula during the Opening Ceremony. As they did in 2000, 2004 and 2006.
Another rare sight on Thursday was North Korean flags that began flying in Olympic villages and stadiums in PyeongChang and Gangneung, something that normally wouldn’t be tolerated in a country with a strict anti-North Korea security law still in effect.
Next week, North Korea is to send a 230-member cheering group, a 140-strong art troupe, taekwondo demonstrators and journalists as part of its Olympic delegation.
The last time North Korea sent a big delegation to South Korea was for the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, just west of Seoul.
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