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Disabled North Korean Student Performers Visit Europe

Seok Hee Lee, director of DULA International, which arranged the trip, says its main purpose is to give the students a chance to see the outside world and learn from the experience.

A group of disabled North Korean students is taking a rare trip to Britain and France to perform with the help of a private aid group based in London.

The group, which includes 11 students, will be performing at the University of Cambridge, the Royal College of Music in London, and the French National Deaf School in Paris. The trip began Friday and runs through March 2.

The trip was arranged by DULA International, which started providing humanitarian aid for disabled students in North Korea after a representative of the group met with North Korean disabled students during the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

Seok Hee Lee, director of DULA International, told the VOA Korean service that the main purpose of the trip is to give the students a chance to see the outside world and learn from the experience.

The students, who range in age from 11 to 20, will be performing “Arirang,” a well-known Korean folk song, and songs from the musical “The Phantom of the Opera.”

“We really made efforts to persuade North Korean officials to allow the students to perform the musical," Lee said. "I told them the musical was composed by a British composer and it was important for the students to perform the music in front of the British audience."

In a phone interview with the VOA Korean service, Kim Mun-chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the North Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled, who is leading the 22-member delegation, said the trip is “an effort to enhance exchanges and cooperation” between local groups and international organizations.

Kim said his federation has been strengthening its relationship with relevant organizations in China, Nepal and Cambodia, but many in Europe are unaware of its activities.

According to Kim, Pyongyang is preparing for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with a focus on table tennis, archery, swimming and weightlifting.

Jee Abbey Lee and Young Park contributed to this report.