SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Monday it will send a cheering squad to the coming Asian Games in rival South Korea that its athletes plan to attend.
A North Korean statement said the dispatch of its cheering squad to the games, set for Sept. 19 to Oct. 4 in the South Korean city of Incheon, is aimed at promoting reconciliation between the rivals. The statement released via state media repeated the country's demands the two Koreas halt mutual slandering and Seoul scrap military drills with Washington that it calls an invasion rehearsal. South Korean and U.S. officials have said their drills are defensive in nature.
North Korea has previously proposed similar demands that it said would reduce tension but South Korea has rejected them, saying the country must first take steps toward nuclear disarmament.
South Korea's Unification Ministry said Monday that North Korea must not repeat "unreasonable" demands. Spokesman Kim Eui-do told reporters the South Korean government supports the successful hosting of the Asian Games and will discuss the North's plans to send athletes and the cheering team with organizers of the games.
North Korea boycotted the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Summer Olympics, both in Seoul, but attended the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, the 2003 University Games in Daegu and the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon.
In all three events, the North dispatched cheering squads, mostly comprising of young women — called an "army of beauties" in South Korea — which often received more attention than the country's athletes. Among the 2005 squad was Ri Sol Ju, who has later become wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to South Korean officials. The North's statement didn't provide details about its cheerleaders to the Incheon games.
Outside analysts say North Korea seeks to improve ties with South Korea and other countries to help attract foreign investment and aid to revive its economy. The country conducted a series of missile and rocket tests before Chinese President Xi Jinping visited South Korea last week in what analysts say was a protest against Xi becoming Beijing's first leader to come to the South before the North.
Monday's proposals were attributed to "the government of DRPK," which refers to the Democratic Republic of Korea, the North's official name. South Korean media said that meant it was the North's highest-level government statement.
The two Korea remain divided along the world's heavily fortified border since the Korean War ended with a war, not a peace treaty.