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Winter Olympics South Korea foots £1.7m bill to get North to Games

HOW much was it worth to Seoul for hundreds of North Koreans to attend the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics? Try £1.7 million.

According to South Korea’s Unification Ministry, that’s the record amount the country has allotted to pay the bills of more than 400 North Koreans, only 22 of whom were athletes, at the Pyeongchang Games.

The North’s performers — a 140-member orchestra with vocalists and dancers, an all-female 229-member cheering squad and a demonstration taekwondo team — have been a major attraction at and around the Games.

That’s both because their presence itself is seen as a sign of eased tensions after a very rough year and because of the appeal they have due to the general isolation of their country.

The North has sent big delegations similar to the one now stealing the off-competition spotlight at Pyeongchang three times before.

For the Asian Games in Busan in 2002, it shelled out about £700,000, then £500,000 for a Universiade in 2003 and another £240,000 for the Asian Games in 2014.

“The North Korean delegation’s participation in the 2018 Olympics will be an opportunity for co-operation and reconciliation between the North and South,” South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in a statement released on Wednesday that included the cost figure.

The ministry said the expenditure is in line with its domestic North-South co-operation funding law.

But it stressed the spending should not be considered a step back from Seoul’s commitment to economic sanctions against the North.

The funds did not pay for a visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong and senior regime officials to attend the Games’ opening ceremony.

During that three-day visit Ms Kim invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang.

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