Wednesday 23 May 2018

Head of North Korean girl band - handpicked by Kim Jong Un - crosses border for Winter Olympics art troupe rehearsal

North Korean Hyon Song Wol, head of North Korea'sart troupe, arrives at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. (Korea Pool via AP)
North Korean Hyon Song Wol, head of North Korea'sart troupe, arrives at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. (Korea Pool via AP)
Hyon Song Wol, head of North Korea's Samjiyon Orchestra, arrives at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, January 21, 2017. Shin Joon-hee/Yonhap via REUTERS
Hyon Song Wol, head of North Korea's Samjiyon Orchestra, arrives at a railway station in Gangneung, South Korea, January 21, 2017. Kim In-cheol/Yonhap via REUTERS
North Korean Hyon Song Wol, center, head of North Korea's art troupe, arrives at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. (Korea Pool Photo via AP)
North Korean Hyon Song Wol, head of a North Korean art troupe, gets off a bus as she arrives at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. (Kim Sun-ung/Newsis via AP)
Hyon Song Wol, head of North Korea's Samjiyon Orchestra, arrives at the South's CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine), just south of the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, January 21, 2017. the Unification Ministry/Yonhap via REUTERS
Hyon Song Wol, head of North Korea's Samjiyon Orchestra, is greeted by a South Korean official as she arrives at the South's CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine), just south of the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, January 21, 2017. the Unification Ministry/Yonhap via REUTERS
Hyon Song Wol, head of the North Korea's Samjiyon Orchestra, arrives at the South's CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine), just south of the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, January 21, 2017. the Unification Ministry/Yonhap via REUTERS
Hyon Song Wol, head of the North Korea's Samjiyon Orchestra, gets on a KTX train as she departs for Gangneung at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, January 21, 2017. Shin Joon-hee/Yonhap via REUTERS
Hyon Song Wol, head of North Korea's Samjiyon Orchestra, arrives at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, January 21, 2017. Shin Joon-hee/Yonhap via REUTERS

Hyung-Jin Kim

The head of a hugely popular North Korean girl band crossed the heavily fortified border into South Korea on Sunday to check preparations for an art troupe she also leads during next month's Winter Olympics.

Appearing live on South Korean television, Hyon Song Wol did not speak when she walked past a crowd of reporters, onlookers and a barrage of camera flashes before boarding an express train at Seoul's railway station for the eastern city of Gangneung, where her art troupe is to perform during the Pyeongchang Olympics.

She is also the leader of Pyongyang's all-female Moranbong Band, which was hand-picked by leader Kim Jong Un.

She has been the subject of intense South Korean media attention since she attended last week's talks at the border that struck an agreement on the art troupe's two performances - one in Seoul and the other in Gangneung, where some of the games will take place.

North Korean Hyon Song Wol, head of a North Korean art troupe, gets off a bus as she arrives at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. (Kim Sun-ung/Newsis via AP)
North Korean Hyon Song Wol, head of a North Korean art troupe, gets off a bus as she arrives at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. (Kim Sun-ung/Newsis via AP)

TV stations broadcast live footage of Ms Hyon's bus moving on Seoul's roads before arriving at the railway station, where hundreds of police officers were mobilised to maintain order.

Photos showed a smiling Hyon shaking heads with a South Korean official upon arrival at the border.

North Korean Hyon Song Wol, head of North Korea'sart troupe, arrives at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. (Korea Pool via AP)
North Korean Hyon Song Wol, head of North Korea'sart troupe, arrives at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. (Korea Pool via AP)

Later on Sunday, wearing a fur scarf and with half her hair tied to the back, she looked more serious with an expressionless face.

Ms Hyon's arrival came hours after the International Olympic Committee allowed 22 North Korean athletes to take part in the Olympics in exceptional entries given to the North.

Hyon Song Wol, head of the North Korea's Samjiyon Orchestra, gets on a KTX train as she departs for Gangneung at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, January 21, 2017. Shin Joon-hee/Yonhap via REUTERS
Hyon Song Wol, head of the North Korea's Samjiyon Orchestra, gets on a KTX train as she departs for Gangneung at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, January 21, 2017. Shin Joon-hee/Yonhap via REUTERS

Among the 22 are 12 women who will join South Korea's female hockey team in the Koreas' first-ever unified Olympic team.

The other sports events the North Koreans will compete in are figure skating, short track speed skating, Alpine skiing and cross-country skiing.

Hyon Song Wol, head of the North Korea's Samjiyon Orchestra, arrives at the South's CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine), just south of the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, January 21, 2017. the Unification Ministry/Yonhap via REUTERS
Hyon Song Wol, head of the North Korea's Samjiyon Orchestra, arrives at the South's CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine), just south of the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, January 21, 2017. the Unification Ministry/Yonhap via REUTERS

The 22 North Korean athletes will also march together with South Korean players under a single "unification flag" depicting their peninsula during the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang.

"Such an agreement would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago," IOC chief Thomas Bach said in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The current mood of reconciliation between the Koreas flared after Kim abruptly expressed his willingness to improve ties and send a delegation to the Olympics during his annual New Year's address.

Outside critics dismissed Kim's overture as a tactic to use improved ties with Seoul to weaken US-led international sanctions over North Korea's nuclear and missile tests.

Ms Hyon is travelling with six other North Koreans. Her delegation was earlier supposed to come to South Korea on Saturday, but North Korea cancelled those plans on Friday night before it proposed coming on Sunday for a two-day trip.

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