Sunday 15 September 2019

Former spy chief to lead North Korea's Games delegation

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will send an eight-strong delegation to Pyeonchang. Photo: AP
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will send an eight-strong delegation to Pyeonchang. Photo: AP

Julian Ryall

Pyongyang has announced that a hawkish general who is widely considered to have orchestrated a number of attacks on South Korea will lead the North Korean delegation to the closing ceremony of the Pyeonchang Winter Olympic Games on Sunday.

General Kim Yong-chol currently serves as head of the Workers' Party United Front Department but previously oversaw the regime's shadowy Reconnaissance Bureau, the clandestine intelligence agency.

South Korean intelligence believes General Kim masterminded the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan off the west coast of the peninsula in March 2010, with the loss of 46 crew. Eight months later, North Korean artillery bombarded the island of Yeonpyeongdo, 80km west of the port city of Incheon, killing two South Korean soldiers and a further two civilians. The South Korean government has nevertheless confirmed that it will permit the eight-strong delegation sent by leader Kim Jong-un to attend the ceremony and that Moon Jae-in, the South's president, will meet with them.

Mr Moon will also meet Ivanka Trump, who is due to arrive in Seoul today and will be leading the US delegation at the ceremony. Despite suggestions that the event might be an opportunity for the two sides to talk, it is unlikely that the US officials will agree to any such face-to-face meeting.

Opposition parties in the South have expressed their outrage at what they see as Mr Moon kow-towing to the regime in Pyongyang.

"The main culprit of the Cheonan's sinking can never set foot on the land of the Republic of Korea", Jun Hee-kyung, of the opposition Liberty Korea Party, said in a statement.

Ms Jun said North Korea's decision to send General Kim to the closing ceremony is "shameless" and a "rare humiliation" for the South.

Kim Hyun, a spokesman for the ruling Democratic Party, welcomed Pyongyang's announcement and said: "We expect this visit will contribute to easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and moving inter-Korean relations forward."

He added that he hopes the North's officials will meet with the US delegation that will be attending the ceremony and will include Ms Trump.

The White House confirmed on Wednesday that President Donald Trump has asked his eldest daughter to lead the "high-level delegation" to Pyeongchang. An official of the administration ruled out the possibility that Ms Trump would meet with North Koreans during her three-day stay.

Instead, she is scheduled to meet with female defectors from North Korea to hear about their experiences.

© Daily Telegraph London

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