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Koreas set for first talks in two years

SEOUL (AFP) – Top officials from North and South Korea will hold their first official dialogue in more than two years on Tuesday after months of high tensions over Pyongyang’s weapons ambitions.

The long-stalled talks come after the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un indicated in his New Year’s speech that Pyongyang was willing to send a delegation to the Winter Games in the South.

Seoul responded with an offer of a high-level dialogue, and last week the hotline between the neighbours was restored after being suspended for almost two years.

The talks at Panmunjom, the truce village in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula, will largely focus on the North’s participation in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South.

Seoul has been keen to proclaim the event in Pyeongchang, just 80 kilometres south of the DMZ, a ‘‘peace Olympics’’ in the wake of ICBM and nuclear tests by the North – but it needs the North to attend to make the description meaningful.

If the North agrees, one of the top agenda items will be whether the two Koreas’ sports people make joint entrances to the opening and closing ceremonies, as they did for Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and the 2006 Winter Games in Torino.

The size and membership of the North Korean delegation and their accommodation – widely expected to be paid for by Seoul – will also be discussed.

The group may stay in a cruise ship in Sokcho, about an hour’s drive from the Olympic venue – which would enable their movements to be closely monitored and controlled.

With only a handful of qualified winter sports athletes, analysts say North Korea is likely to send significant numbers of cheerleaders to the Pyeongchang Games, which run from February 9 to 25.

Hundreds of young, good-looking female North Korean cheerleaders have created a buzz at three previous international sporting events in the South.