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Seoul demands N. Korea explain cancelled arts delegation visit

© YONHAP/AFP/File | The two Koreas have agreed to march together under a unification flag at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics

SEOUL (AFP) - 

South Korea has urged North Korea to explain why it abruptly suspended plans to send a delegation to prepare cultural performances during the Winter Olympics, its unification minister said Saturday.

The North had planned to send a seven-member advance team headed by the leader of an all-female Western-style band to the South this weekend to inspect venues for proposed performances in Seoul and the eastern city of Gangneung.

Hyon Song-Wol, reportedly an ex-girlfriend of leader Kim Jong-Un, would have been the first North Korean official to visit the South in four years if Saturday's trip had gone ahead.

But Pyongyang said it had suspended the plan, giving no reason. It was unclear whether the visit was permanently cancelled or postponed.

"We sent a message by fax to the North... at around 11:20 am (0920 GMT), demanding an explanation," Seoul's Unification Minister Cho Myoung-Gyon told reporters.

"We've conveyed our position to the North that all preparations have been made for the visit and that the South and the North would be able to reset the schedule," he added.

Hyon was the subject of lurid 2013 reports in the South that she and around a dozen other state musicians had been executed for appearing in porn movies.

Pyongyang angrily denied the claims and Hyon later appeared on state television.

With Hyon back in spotlight ahead of the Games, South Korean media mentioned Hyon's alleged past affairs with the North's leader Kim Jong-Un, which analysts said must have annoyed Kim.

"Pyongyang is apparently angry as unconfirmed rumours about Hyon's alleged ties with Kim are being spread again," Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies told AFP.

The two Koreas have agreed to march together under a unification flag -- a pale blue silhouette of the Korean peninsula -- at the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on February 9, and to form a unified women's ice hockey team.

But critics in the South have said a unified team would disrupt the side and deprive some Southern squad members of the chance to play on the Olympic stage.

The conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party has strongly objected to the agreement, arguing the North is seeking to exploit the South's Olympics for its own propaganda.

"The Pyeongchang Olympics is becoming like a Pyongyang Olympics", its leader Hong Jun-Pyo said on Friday.

A Realmeter poll released Thursday showed only 40.5 percent of South Koreans supported the joint march under a unification flag.

A larger share -- 49.4 percent -- were in favour of the neighbours holding their own national flags.

Yang said the North is apparently concerned about this widespread resentment in the South and security for its delegates.

In 2015, the Moranbong Band led by Hyon cancelled a series of concerts in Beijing just hours before they were due on stage, reportedly because of disputes over stage backdrop footage showing a North Korean missile being launched.

© 2018 AFP