[Exclusive] ‘2018 Olympic torch may travel via Pyongyang, Kumkangsan’

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The Olympics torch for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games may be the first of its kind to cross the inter-Korean border to reach North Korea’s capital or Mount Kumkang, a source familiar with the games’ ongoing preparations here told The Korea Herald.

From left: President of the PyeongChang Olympics organizing committee Lee Hee-beom, PyeongChang 2018 Honorary Ambassador Insooni, and Gangwon Province Governer Choi Moon-soon. Yonhap

“There have been consistent talks within the International Olympics Committee meetings here to send the torch to Mount Kumkang or Pyongyang during the final stages of the relay in Gangwon Province — with distance and time in consideration,” the source said, requesting anonymity.

The insider based the time frame on the theory the torch would travel by foot and boat.

The organizing committee for the 2018 Winter Games announced in April the torch will arrive in South Korea on Nov. 1 from Greece to embark on a tour through 17 cities nationwide. It is then scheduled to pass through another 18 cities and counties in Gangwon Province.

The prospects of a North Korean leg of the torch relay look slim, however.  The source stressed that reviving frozen inter-Korean dialogue was a prerequisite of the collaboration.

“The committee’s talks on the plan are on hold due to diplomatic circumstances. They are expected to resume once inter-Korean ties recover,” the source said.

The source also revealed North Korea’s recent series of intercontinental ballistic missile liftoffs have posed as obstacles and the committee has not yet officially informed South Korea’s Ministry of Unification of the plan.

The North Korean regime’s ongoing silence toward the Moon Jae-in administration’s offer of an olive branch is dimming prospects that the plan will come to fruition. It already indirectly rejected Seoul’s offer to hold separate military and Red Cross talks at the truce village of Panmunjeom in July.

But Seoul has refused to give up hope that it can work out sports exchanges with Pyongyang, including a South-North unified team for the Olympics next year.

On Monday, South Korean Minister of Culture, Sports, and Tourism Do Jong-whan pledged to continue to persuade North Korea to participate in the upcoming Winter Games, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Do said discussions to fuel the inter-Korean sports exchanges were being carried out, referring to a July meeting between World Taekwondo chief Choue Chung-won and North Korean IOC member Chang Ung. The two reportedly talked about a possible WT demonstration team performance staged in North Korea.

When he first took office in June, Do voiced his wish to extend the torch relay route to key North Korean regions such as Kaesong, Pyongyang, and Mount Kumkang, but it was uncertain whether the IOC had received the message.

President Moon said “South Korea will keep the doors open until the last minute” for its Northern neighbor to respond to the invitation for the Winter Games, during an Olympic promotional event held on July 24, marking 200 days until the start of the games. Moon added that the IOC has also agreed to “open the doors for North Korea’s participation” and Pyongyang’s response is the key to a historic event.

Mount Kumkang, a tourist destination in North Korea known for its beautiful scenery, straddles the North Korean side of Gangwon Province. It is in close proximity to PyeongChang — the designated venue for the upcoming Winter Olympics — which lies some 180 kilometers east of Seoul in South Korea’s side of Gangwon Province.

The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games take place from Feb. 9 to 25.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)

Source  :  The Korea Herald

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