Athletes from North Korea will participate in the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Saturday.
North Korea will send 22 athletes who will compete in three sports and five disciplines, Bach said, following a meeting between delegations from the two Koreas and Olympic officials in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Athletes from the North and South will also march together under one flag at the opening ceremony for the Games in Pyeongchang, which begin February 9, Bach said.
"This team will enter the Olympic Stadium under the Korean unification flag. I'm sure that this will be a very emotional moment not only for all Koreans but also for the entire world," Bach said.
He also confirmed that, for the first time in Olympic history, the two nations will enter a joint women's ice hockey team.
"For the first time in Olympic history, the two Korean teams will enter to compete as one team in the form of a unified Korean women's ice hockey team."
Bach said reaching this outcome "was not an easy journey" but that he was proud of what the representatives of the two Koreas, the IOC and the Pyeongchang 2018 Organizing Committee had achieved.
The proposals from North and South Korea had to be approved by the IOC and Pyeongchang committee before they could go ahead.
IOC leader: Games 'beyond all political tensions'
North Korea's unexpected participation, negotiated in talks at the heavily fortified border between the two nations since the start of the year, has been hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough that could herald peace on the Korean Peninsula.
However, others fear that South Korea has fallen for a North Korean charm offensive and warned the international community not to be complacent.
In opening remarks earlier Saturday, Bach said the IOC had been working for several years to address the "special situation" of having the 2018 Winter Olympics on the Korean Peninsula.
"We have always done so with our belief that the Olympic Games are beyond all political tensions," he said. "In Olympic sport, we are all equal, regardless of where we come from or who we are: north and south, east and west, women and men, rivals and friends."
Joint training proposed
The IOC had previously approved the two countries jointly participating in Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, something that happened during the Sydney Summer Games in 2000.
The South Korean Unification Ministry announced a range of joint activities between the countries for the Games following talks Wednesday at the Demilitarized Zone.
North and South Korean skiers will train together at a resort in North Korea before the Olympics start, and performers from the two countries will also hold a joint cultural event at Mount Kumgang.
In addition to the athletes, an art troupe, a 30-strong North Korean Taekwondo demonstration team and press corps will travel south, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters in Seoul.
A delegation of 150 North Korean athletes and supporters will attend the Paralympics, Seoul's Unification Ministry said.
An advance inspection team for the art troupe will travel from North Korea on Sunday, the ministry said Saturday. A day earlier, the ministry said North Korea had canceled the advance trip, then scheduled for Saturday, without an explanation.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov said he did not rule out the possibility that a North Korean delegation could visit Moscow ahead of next month's Games.
"I do not exclude contacts with a delegation from Pyongyang on inter-MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) channels in Moscow before the start of the Olympic Games," Morgulov said in an interview with Russia's state-run TASS news agency published Saturday.
Morgulov said that the main focus of any meetings would be on bilateral issues. He added that the recent talks between the two Koreas indicated that tensions would be reduced during the Winter Olympics.
"In our opinion, the direct dialogue that started between Seoul and Pyongyang, as well as the agreements that were reached during it, give grounds to believe that during the Olympic Games, the situation on the peninsula will be relatively stable," Morgulov said.
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