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Pope praises joint Korean Olympic teams, Vatican willing to back peace initiatives

08 February 2018

North Korea is sending a massive delegation of government officials, cheerleaders, cultural performers, coaches, and athletes to the Winter Olympics, including Kim Yong Nam, the country's ceremonial leader, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un's little sister Kim Yo Jong.

Canada's Patrick Chan practices on the men single skating in the Gangneung Ice Arena before the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games on February 7, 2018.

Kim Yo-jong will arrive on Friday to attend the opening ceremony as part of the 22-member delegation headed by North Korea's nominal head of state Kim Yong-nam, the ministry said in a statement published on its website on Wednesday.

Last month, President Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to halt their countries' joint military exercises during the upcoming Olympics, with both calling for a "safe and successful" 2018 Olympic Games.

The White House has also cautioned against reading too much into remarks Pence made en route to Japan.

A decision by South Korea to accept North Korea's offer to send its artists by sea has triggered debate in the South, where conservatives saw the move as a sure-fire sign that the North is trying to use the Olympics to ease the pressure against the country.

"We will not allow North Korea to hide behind the Olympic banner the reality that they enslave their people and threaten the wider region", Pence said.

For Friday's opening ceremony, Pence is bringing as his guest the father of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died in June past year after being imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months.

The two Koreas, still technically at war since a 1953 armistice, have resumed talks after a year-long standoff between North Korea and the United States where an exchange of threats between the heads of state elevated tensions and prompted the North's continued missile and nuclear tests.

He will also meet American troops who would be on the front lines of defending America if a crisis with North Korea erupted.

"An estimated 100,000 North Koreans suffer in gulags, toiling in forced labor, and enduring torture, starvation, rape, and murder on a constant basis", Pence said.

The Games will place U.S. officials in close proximity to their North Korea counterparts, leading to speculation of a possible meeting between Pence and members of the North Korean delegation in PyeongChang.

The likelihood of an actual meeting between Pence and North Korean officials seems remote, though the vice president is not ruling it out.

"If they will choose a different path, there's a better future for the people of North Korea and the people of the Korean Peninsula with a nuclear-free future", he said.

US defenseman Kacey Bellamy, who will be playing in her third Olympics, said the team has to drop a recent tendency to force another pass rather than just shoot.

The announcement of Kim Yo-jong's addition to North Korea's VIP list follows remarks by Vice President Mike Pence, who will attend the Games representing America, that he is not entirely closed to interacting with North Korean counterparts.

"This will mark Kim Yo-Jong's debut on the worldwide stage", Yang told AFP.

Pope praises joint Korean Olympic teams, Vatican willing to back peace initiatives