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Monday, 23 September, 2002, 06:22 GMT 07:22 UK
North Koreans in South for games
North and South Korean players at their football friendly
Sport has already brought the two states closer this year
A plane carrying 173 athletes and officials from North Korea has touched down in the South Korean city of Busan ahead of the Asian Games, due to begin on Sunday.

The group is the first part of the largest delegation ever sent by the Communist North to the South.

It is the first time that Northern athletes have attended an international sporting event in the South since the peninsula's division in 1945.

In another first, the North Korean flag was publicly flown on Southern soil when it was hoisted at the Games village.

But the athletes and officials leaving the plane at the airport were met by the blue and white neutral flag of a united Korean peninsula.

"Thanks for welcoming us," said one of the delegates as they headed off to the athletes' village without giving a news conference.

Warming up

Altogether, nearly 700 northerners are due to arrive for the Games.

A second plane carrying 152 people is due to arrive on Friday while a ferry will bring 355 officials and supporters into the port city on Saturday.

Of the 419 gold medals up for grabs at the Games, the North is expected to bag about 10, having won seven at the last Asian Games, held in Thailand in 1998.

With the two Korean states still technically at war, the North has until now shunned all big sporting events hosted by its rival, including the 1986 Asian Games, the 1988 Olympic Games and the 2002 World Cup football finals.

But recent weeks have seen a flurry of both diplomatic and sporting activity as work on a cross-border railway began, families were reunited and the two states held a friendly football match in Seoul.


Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

05 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
19 Jul 02 | Country profiles
22 Jul 02 | Country profiles
19 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
19 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
09 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
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