DONGHAE, South Korea (AP) — A shipload of North Korean musicians, singers and dancers arrived in South Korea on Tuesday to perform at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
The arrival of the Mangyongbong 92 cruise ship was met by hordes of reporters and cameramen — and a small but boisterous protest by a group of South Koreans who oppose the last-minute agreement allowing North Korea to join in the games, which open on Friday.
The ship carried members of the Samjiyon Band, an orchestra with vocalists and dancers that is headed by one of North Korea’s best-known singers, Hyon Song Wol.
The ship will be used as lodging for the group, at least initially, before they move on to a performance in Seoul on Sunday. It’s a convenient way for North Korean officials to keep closer control over the delegation and limit its exposure to South Korean "ideological contamination."
All told, the North’s delegation is expected to number in the hundreds — including about 22 athletes, various officials, 140 people in the Samjiyon Band, a taekwondo exhibition team and an all-female cheering group that always draws lots of attention from Japanese and South Korean television networks.
The wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Ri Sol Ju, was part of a cheering group that visited South Korea during the Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon in 2005.
The Mangyongbong 92 also carried hundreds of supporters to the South Korean port of Busan on its last visit in 2002.
Seoul had to waive sanctions in place since 2010 on North Korea over the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel to allow the ship to enter this time. The attack on the South Korean ship left 46 dead.
It’s unlikely there will be any defections.
North Korea has sent large delegations to international sports events in South Korea during previous periods of inter-Korean detente and no defections were reported.
Any attempt to do so would be extremely risky, to say the least.
Some observers in South Korea have suggested the North has embedded security agents in its IOC-accredited delegation by giving them positions as officials or journalists.
Members of delegations are also carefully screened by North Korea. They are often mostly from relatively affluent families with members who would face punishment and ostracism if left behind.
Eric Talmadge is the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @EricTalmadge