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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Two Koreas in talks on Winter Olympics after the North agreed to attend the games

South Korea has proposed a joint march for the opening ceremony and a unified women's ice hockey team

The head of South Korean delegation Lee Woo-sung, right, and the head of North Korean delegation Kwon Hook Bong, left, arrive for their meeting at the North side of Panmunjom in North Korea on January 15, 2018. Officials from the Koreas met Monday to work out details about North Korea's plan to send an art troupe to the South during next month's Winter Olympics. South Korea Unification Ministry via AP
The head of South Korean delegation Lee Woo-sung, right, and the head of North Korean delegation Kwon Hook Bong, left, arrive for their meeting at the North side of Panmunjom in North Korea on January 15, 2018. Officials from the Koreas met Monday to work out details about North Korea's plan to send an art troupe to the South during next month's Winter Olympics. South Korea Unification Ministry via AP

North and South Korea began talks on Monday to discuss appearances by performers from Pyongyang's state-run artistic troupes at next month's Winter Olympics in the South, after the North said it will attend the games.

Pyongyang agreed last week to send athletes, high-level officials, and others to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, easing months of tensions over its weapons programmes.

The two sides agreed an art troupe would be part of the delegation. Eight officials - four from each country - started to thrash out the details on the northern side of the Military Demarcation Line at the border truce village of Panmunjom on Monday morning, Seoul's unification ministry said.

The North's delegates include Kwon Hyok-bong, a senior culture ministry official, as well as Hyon Song-wol, the leader of the North's all-female Moranbong music band.

The 10-strong band, established in 2012 with members supposedly chosen by leader Kim Jong-un, is known for its western-style, synthesiser-driven music and sophisticated fashion style rare in the North, although most of their songs laud the government.

Their numbers include Mother's Birthday, about the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, and We Call Him Father, an ode to the leader.

Such lyrics could fall foul of the South's national security act, which bans praise for the North.

The band once cancelled a performance in Beijing in 2015 and returned home after Chinese officials took issue with propaganda images on the stage featuring Pyongyang's long-range missiles.

The South's delegates include senior officials from the state-run Korean Symphony Orchestra, raising the prospect of groups from both sides of the DMZ performing together - another top North Korean act is the State Merited Chorus, a military choir.

The two Koreas are also set to hold talks with the International Olympics Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Saturday over how the North's athletes will participate in the games.

South Korea has proposed a joint march for the opening ceremony and a unified women's ice hockey team, a minister said last week.

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The South Korean government and Olympic organisers have been keen for Pyongyang - which boycotted the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul - to take part in what they have been promoting as a "peace Olympics".

The North remained silent on the offer until Mr Kim abruptly announced intentions in his New Year speech to take part, a move seen as aimed at easing military tensions with the US.

Those have been high on the flashpoint peninsula as the North staged a flurry of nuclear and missile tests since last year, and Mr Kim traded threats of war and personal insults with US president Donald Trump.

Mr Kim's declaration triggered an apparent rapprochement and a rapid series of moves, while Seoul touted last week's talks - the first inter-Korea meeting in two years - as a potential first step to bring the North into negotiations over its nuclear arsenal.

South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who advocates dialogue with the North but remains critical of Pyongyang's weapons drive, said last week he was willing to have a summit with Mr Kim "under the right conditions", but added that "certain outcomes must be guaranteed".

In a setback for such hopes, Pyongyang on Sunday criticised Mr Moon as "ignorant and unreasonable" for demanding pre-conditions - possibly a step towards denuclearisation - for a summit.

"The South Korean chief executive should not be dreaming," the state-run KCNA news agency said in an editorial, accusing Mr Moon of "brown-nosing" the United States.

"The South Korean authorities have an axe to grind, hoping to eat corn without teeth," it added.

It represented a return to the North's more usual tone - in the run-up to the talks KCNA had uncharacteristically and respectfully referred to Mr Moon by name and his title of president.

KCNA added that the North could still change its mind about taking part in the Olympics. "They should know that train and bus carrying our delegation to the Olympics are still in Pyongyang," it said.

A spokesman for Seoul's unification ministry played down the editorial, attributing it to "internal reasons and circumstances".

"We believe that it is important to seek improvement in ties based on mutual respect and understanding," Baik Tae-hyun told reporters.