North Korea is set to send an elite female cheerleading squad – dubbed the ‘army of beauties’ – to the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month.
With their enchanting looks and elegant moves, North Korea’s cheerleading unit are a marked contrast to the regime’s menacing nuclear ambitions.
But the squad, mostly made up of young women in their late teens or early twenties, have attracted huge publicity on previous visits to the South.
North Korea has announced it plans to send an elite female cheerleading squad to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next month
North Korea’s First Lady Ri Sol-Ju was among the group who attended the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in the city of Incheon near Seoul.
The even will be the group’s fourth appearance in the South after Pyongyang agreed this week to send a delegation to next month’s games, which will take place in Pyeongchang just 80 kilometres south of the Demilitarised Zone that splits the peninsula in two.
The North and South have been separate since the end of the Korean War in 1953, with no direct telephone or postal links between them.
Any delegations from the northern hermit nation to its neighbour are carefully chosen by central command in Pyongyang, and their movements are tightly controlled in the South.
An Chan-Il, a defector researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies, said the cheerleaders are cherry-picked by the regime based on tough criteria.
‘They must be over 163 centimetres (5ft 3ins) tall and come from good families,’ he said.
The squad – mostly made up of young women in their late teens or early twenties – have attracted huge publicity on previous visits to the South
They made headlines worldwide after nearly 300 arrived on a ferry in South Korea dressed in colourful hanboks – traditional Korean dresses – and waving ‘unification flags’
‘Those who play an instrument are from a band and others are mostly students at the elite Kim Il-Sung University.’
The ‘army of beauties’ made their first appearance at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan.
They made headlines worldwide after nearly 300 of them arrived on a ferry dressed in colourful hanboks, traditional Korean dresses, and waving ‘unification flags’ – a pale blue silhouette of the whole Korean peninsula.
Hundreds of Busan residents lined the port to greet them, with several homes also flying unification flags.
In 2005, former North Korean cheerleader Cho Myung-Ae, whose good looks gained her a huge following in the South, appeared in a television commercial for a Samsung mobile phone with South Korean pop star Lee Hyo-Ri.
The hermit nation’s First Lady Ri Sol-Juis is among various famous former members. Pictured: Cheerleaders perform at a women’s football match in North Korea
North Korean cheerleaders support their team before the quarter-final match against Germany in the FIFA Women’s Football World Cup in Wuhan in China
Improved diplomatic relations are no the only positive to be gained from the visit.
‘It will help with ticket sales,’ said Pyeongchang Organising Committee spokesman Sung Baik-You.
‘It will fulfil our desires for a peace Olympics,’ he added. ‘A joint cheering squad would be phenomenal,’ said Lee Sun-Kyung, who organised the group.
This comes after the two countries announced earlier this week they would ‘resolve problems through dialogue and negotiations’.
Seoul and Pyongyang announced a tentative peace agreement earlier this week after a session of rare talks
Seoul said the country was willing to temporarily lift sanctions imposed on Pyongyang in order to allow the delegation to attend the games
Seoul and Pyongyang made the announcement in a joint statement after a session of rare talks between the two countries took place this week in Panmunjon in the Demilitarised Zone.
Seoul said the country was willing to temporarily lift sanctions imposed on Pyongyang in order to allow the delegation to attend the games.
South Korea’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung said the North announced it would attend the games during rare talks between the rivals at the border on Tuesday.
The North Korean delegation will include officials, athletes, cheerleaders and journalists
He cited the North Korean officials there as saying its delegation would include officials, athletes, cheerleaders and journalists.
South Korea has unilaterally banned several North Korean officials from entering the country in response to Pyongyang’s ramped-up missile and nuclear tests, conducted despite international pressure.
But foreign ministry spokesman Roh Kyu-deok said Seoul would consider whether it needed to take ‘prior steps’, together with the UN Security Council and other relevant countries, to help the North Koreans visit for the Olympics.