SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The head of a hugely popular North Korean girl band crossed the heavily fortified border into South Korea on Sunday to check preparations for an art troupe she also leads during next month’s Winter Olympics.
Appearing live on South Korean television, Hyon Song Wol didn’t speak when she walked past a crowd of reporters, onlookers and a barrage of camera flashes before boarding an express train at Seoul’s railway station for the eastern city of Gangneung, where her art troupe is to perform during the Pyeongchang Olympics.
She is also the leader of Pyongyang’s all-female Moranbong Band, which was hand-picked by leader Kim Jong Un. She’s been the subject of intense South Korean media attention since she attended last week’s talks at the border that struck an agreement on the art troupe’s two performances — one in Seoul and the other in Gangneung, where some of the games will take place.
TV stations broadcast live footage of Hyon’s bus moving on Seoul’s roads before arriving at the railway station, where hundreds of police officers were mobilized to maintain order.
Photos showed a smiling Hyon shaking heads with a South Korean official upon arrival at the border. Later Sunday, wearing a fur scarf and with half her hair tied to the back, she looked more serious with an expressionless face.
Hyon’s arrival came hours after the International Olympic Committee allowed 22 North Korean athletes to take part in the Olympics in exceptional entries given to the North. Among the 22 are 12 women who will join South Korea’s female hockey team in the Koreas’ first-ever unified Olympic team. The other sports events the North Koreans will compete in are figure skating, short track speed skating, Alpine skiing and cross-country skiing.
The 22 North Korean athletes will also march together with South Korean players under a single “unification flag” depicting their peninsula during the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang. “Such an agreement would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago,” IOC chief Thomas Bach said in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The current mood of reconciliation between the Koreas flared after Kim abruptly expressed his willingness to improve ties and send a delegation to the Olympics during his annual New Year’s address. Outside critics dismissed Kim’s overture as a tactic to use improved ties with Seoul to weaken U.S.-led international sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests.
Hyon is travelling with six other North Koreans. Her delegation was earlier supposed to come to South Korea on Saturday, but North Korea canceled that plans on Friday night before it proposed coming on Sunday for a two-day trip.