SEOUL, South Korea (AP) A North Korean taekwondo demonstration team arrived in South Korea on Friday for its first performances in the rival country in 10 years.
The team's arrival came as South Korea's new liberal president, Moon Jae-in, is trying to reach out to North Korea despite the North's push to bolster its nuclear and missile programs. The North's sole IOC member, Chang Ung, is travelling with the taekwondo team and will likely meet South Korean officials over cooperation on next year's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Upon their arrival at Seoul's Gimpo International Airport, South Korean children wearing taekwondo uniforms draped bouquets of flowers around the neck of Chang and other North Koreans amid a barrage of camera flashes. Chang told a televised news conference that Pyeongchang issues will be discussed when IOC President Thomas Bach visits South Korea next week.
Taekwondo is a Korean traditional martial art but has been the subject of a bitter North-South rivalry.
There are two international federations: the South Korea-based World Taekwondo Federation - recognized by the International Olympic Committee - and the North-backed International Taekwondo Federation. North Korea has never sent its taekwondo athletes to Olympics.
A 15-member ITF demonstration team, all North Koreans, plans to conduct joint performances with WTF athletes, mostly South Koreans, at the WTF-organized world championships, which is set to open Saturday in the southern South Korean town of Muju.
''We came here to make a contribution to a unified development of taekwondo, the source of our national pride,'' ITF president Ri Yong Sun said.
The rival athletes are to perform at the opening and closing ceremonies in Muju and also in Seoul and the southern city of Jeonju, according to a WTF statement. In 2014, the WTF and ITF agreed to respect each other and form a joint demonstration team during a meeting in China, with Bach present.
The rival bodies have been divided on rules, with the WTF allowing kicks to the head but forbidding punches to the head. The ITF permits both punches and kicks to the head.
A North Korean coach and 20 other ITF officials, mostly North Koreans, also came to South Korea. They've become the first North Koreans to visit South Korea since Moon's May 10 inauguration, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry. The North Koreans are to stay in South Korea until July 1 and Bach is to visit South Korea next Thursday for the WTF championships.
Moon's push to improve frayed ties hasn't reported much progress, with the North test-launching a series of newly built missiles. Moon's government wants North Korea to attend the Pyeongchang Games and has proposed various ideas to use its participation as a way promote peace on the divided Korean Peninsula.