SEOUL (Reuters) - The South Korean Unification Ministry said on Friday it expects the national women’s soccer team’s trip to North Korea for an international competition to proceed in a “calm and orderly manner”.
The South Korean government approved the team’s trip to Pyongyang for next month’s 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers in North Korea on Thursday.
South Korean athletes need approval from Seoul to enter the North as the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically in a state of war.
Group B of qualifying for the Asian Cup finals in Jordan will be held in Pyongyang from April 3-11, with Hong Kong, Uzbekistan and India also involved. The match between the two Koreas is scheduled for April 7.
A ministry official confirmed they had approved the trip for the South Korean delegation, which consists of 23 players, 18 coaching staff members and 10 reporters.
North Korea provided written safety assurances for the South’s delegation to Seoul via the Asian Football Conferedation late on Wednesday.
Ministry deputy spokeswoman Lee Eugene said in a briefing on Friday that the “government gave approval considering that the competition is an international sports game held according to international rules and procedures ...(and) expects it to be carried out in a calm and orderly manner, considering the current situation between South Korea and North Korea.”
Tensions on the peninsula are currently high, with South Korea saying last week that the North was ready to carry out a new nuclear test.
The decision to approve the visit comes after Seoul gave the green light for the North Korean women’s ice hockey team to visit the South for a competition.
The International Ice Hockey Federation’s (IIHF) Women’s World Championship Division II Group A will be held in Gangneung from April 2-8 and will be used as a test event for the ice hockey at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
The North Korean delegation is schedule to arrive in the South on Saturday.
Reporting by Jeongeun Lee; Editing by Peter Rutherford