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N. Koreas Participate in S. Korea Sporting Event For First Time - 2002-09-23

North Korean athletes have arrived in South Korea for the Asian Games. This is the first time that North Korea has participated in an international sporting event across the border. The arrival of the athletes has generated great interest in South Korea.

More than 150 North Korean athletes stepped off the plane in Busan to be welcomed by South Koreans waving the "Unification Flag," the Korean peninsula drawn in blue against a white background.

The athletes are part of a delegation of more than 650 North Koreans expected to attend the Asian Games in Busan from September 29 to October 14. More North Korean athletes and officials arrive Friday and about 350 supporters will arrive Saturday. The supporters will be allowed to wave the North Korean flag in stadiums and the North's flag is being flown at the main media center and the team headquarters. Flying the communist North's flag is usually banned in the South.

A South Korean television commentator describes the scene as the North Korean athletes arrive. Their visit has drawn great public interest and a steady stream of media coverage.

South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung says the participation of the North in the Asian Games demonstrates the two Koreas' desire for peace and reconciliation. The two teams are expected to march together during the opening and closing ceremonies under the unification flag. They will sing a traditional folk song instead of their respective national anthems.

Until now, Pyongyang has refused to attend any major sporting events in rival South Korea, including the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Olympic Games. The North's presence makes this the first time that all 43 members of the Olympic Council of Asia will compete in the Asian Games.

North Korea's participation in the games is the latest development in the reconciliation process between the two Koreas. Last week, Pyongyang and Seoul started work on reconnecting transport links across the Demilitarized zone. In addition, there has been a reunion of families divided by the border, and an orchestra associated with South Korea's national broadcasting company performed in the North.