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(2nd LD) N.K. to send leader Kim Jong-un's sister to S. Korea this week

2018/02/07 17:01

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SEOUL, Feb. 7 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has offered to send the younger sister of leader Kim Jong-un as a member of its high-level delegation for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Seoul officials said Wednesday.

The North informed the South that Kim Yo-jong, the deputy chief of the ruling party's propaganda and agitation department, will be included in the delegation, which is led by ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam, according to South Korea's unification ministry.

It would be the first time that a member of the Kim family that has ruled the regime for three generations comes to the South.

The team also includes Choe Hwi, the chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee, and Ri Son-gwon, the head of the North's state agency in charge of inter-Korean affairs.

The North earlier proposed sending a 22-member delegation including three ranking officials and 18 support staffers to South Korea for a three-day trip starting Friday.

"The government views the composition of the delegation -- party, government and sports officials -- as meaningful, given that their trip is aimed at celebrating the opening ceremony of the Winter Games," the ministry said.

It said that Kim was apparently included because foreign leaders' families are customarily sent to deliver congratulations on the games.

The two Koreas have engaged in a flurry of sports diplomacy since the North Korean leader extended a rare olive branch to Seoul in his New Year's message, after years of tensions sparked by the North's nuclear and missile provocations.

Experts said that Kim Yo-jong may deliver a message from her brother regarding inter-Korean ties and North Korea's nuclear programs.

The inclusion of Choe Hwi, who is under U.N. Security Council (UNSC) sanctions, could create a headache for the South, as his visit could violate international sanctions, which involve travel bans and an asset freeze.

Kim Yo-jong is targeted by U.S. sanctions on North Korea's human rights abuses, but not on the UNSC blacklist.

"The government will consult with the international community to ensure (the visit causes) no controversy over sanctions," said a ministry official.

The announcement marked the first time that Kim's title was officially confirmed by the North as the No. 2 post in the Workers' Party of Korea propaganda and agitation department.

She was named an alternate member of the party's politburo, the top decision-making body, at the party's key meeting in October 2017. The move appears intended to further tighten the Kim family's control over the country.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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