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North Korea Cancels Visit to South by Arts Delegation


FILE - Members of North Korea's Moranbong band sing and dance during an Oct. 11, 2015, performance in Pyongyang.
FILE - Members of North Korea's Moranbong band sing and dance during an Oct. 11, 2015, performance in Pyongyang.

North Korea on Friday abruptly canceled plans to send a delegation led by the head of a hugely popular girl band to South Korea over the weekend to check preparations for a trip by a North Korean art troupe she also leads during next month's Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said North Korea didn't explain why it was "suspending" the two-day visit by the seven-member advance team that it proposed just hours earlier through a cross-border communication channel.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the visit, which was to begin on Saturday, was permanently canceled or postponed. The ministry said it will try to gather further information from the North regarding the decision.

The rival Koreas earlier this week agreed that the 140-member Samjiyon art troupe, which will include singers, dancers and orchestra members, will perform twice in South Korea during the games in a sign of warming ties between the countries. It will be part of a North Korean Olympic delegation that will also include athletes, officials, state media reporters, a cheering group and a taekwondo demonstration team.

South Korea has also proposed that it send a 12-member delegation to North Korea on Monday to inspect preparations for a joint cultural event at the North's scenic Diamond Mountain and a training session between non-Olympic skiers at the North's Masik ski resort ahead of the Olympics in the South, the ministry said.

The little-known Samjiyon art troupe is led by Hyun Song Wol, who also heads the popular female Moranbong Band hand-picked by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Hyon has been the focus of intense South Korean media interest since she attended inter-Korean talks at the border on Monday that reached agreement on the troupe's visit. Hyon's gestures during the talks as well as her makeup, looks, navy blue suit and green shoulder bag received widespread coverage.

The reconciliation mood between the Koreas began after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a New Year's speech that he was willing to send a delegation to the Olympics. While South Korea hopes to use the games to improve relations with its rival after a year of animosity involving North Korea's rapidly expanding nuclear weapons program, some experts view Kim's overture as an attempt to weaken U.S.-led international sanctions against the North and buy time to further advance his nuclear weapons program.

Hyon is also an alternate member of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee. Her visit would have made her the highest-profile North Korean to visit South Korea since its International Olympic Committee representative, Chang Ung, came last July.