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North Korea Open to Taekwondo Exchange With South

FILE - A North Korean participant in a national Taekwondo festival is judged in front of a sign in Korean that reads “National Taekwondo Festival for Celebrating Day of the Sun” at the Taekwondo Hall in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 7, 2012.

North Korea has hinted at sending a demonstration team to a Taekwondo competition in South Korea.

Ri Yong Son, North Korea’s newly elected head of the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF), a North Korea-led international body of Taekwondo based in Vienna, told VOA his organization is open to the idea of dispatching a demonstration team to the World Taekwondo Championships in the South Korean city of Muju in May 2017.

The event is hosted by the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), a South Korea-based international body of the Korean martial art.

“We have been always ready [for the event]. If the WTF sends us an invitation, we will send a team. We can also host their team. We will cooperate with each other,” said Ri in reference to an agreement reached between the two Taekwondo bodies in August 2014.

Under that deal, the two sides agreed to take steps to encourage exchanges, allowing North Korean athletes to participate in a competition organized by the South Korean body. In May, a North Korean demonstration team performed during the opening ceremony of the WTF World Taekwondo Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia.

The move marked the first time North Korea allowed its athletes to take part in the South Korean group’s event.

Ri said his group will implement the inter-Korean deal in good faith.

Last week, the ITF elected Ri president by a unanimous vote, replacing Chang Ung, a high-level North Korean sports figure who represents North Korea in the International Olympic Committee. Chang has led the North Korean Taekwondo body since 2002.

The latest Taekwondo exchange comes amid signs of a possible thaw in inter-Korean relations after a recent breakthrough in a military standoff between two Koreas. Last week, the two sides agreed to take a series of steps to ease tensions and encourage dialogue and exchanges, including a resumption of reunions of families separated during the Korean War six decades ago. The two sides are slated to meet next week to discuss the reunion issue.

Recently, tensions have risen on the Korean peninsula after South Korea publicly accused its communist neighbor of planting land mines in the southern part of the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.