The Korea Herald


NK proposes to send art troupe by ship despite sanctions

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Feb. 5, 2018 - 16:34

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North Korea notified South Korea that it plans to send its 140-member art troupe by ferry, Seoul officials said Monday, in apparent disregard for Seoul’s unilateral sanctions. 

Twenty-three members of the advance team for North Korea‘s art performances in the South board a bus in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on Monday after crossing the border. (Joint Press Corps - Yonhap) Twenty-three members of the advance team for North Korea‘s art performances in the South board a bus in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on Monday after crossing the border. (Joint Press Corps - Yonhap)

The announcement came a day ahead of the Samjiyon art troupe’s scheduled arrival here Tuesday for performances ahead of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

North Korea told the South on Sunday its cruise liner Mangyongbong-92 would serve as both a means of transportation across the border and accommodation throughout the performers’ visit in South Korea, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.

The port where the ship will dock has yet to be decided, ministry spokesperson Baik Tae-hyun said Monday, while stressing that Seoul is still negotiating details of the travel plan with the relevant parties.

Baik said that the North’s decision to propose sea travel is based on its wish to provide convenient accommodation for the art troupe throughout its stay in the South.

But if Seoul greenlights North Korea’s latest travel plan, it will have to exempt the Mangyongbong-92 from South Korea’s unilateral sanctions banning North Korean vessels from entering its waters.

Seoul’s May 24 sanctions were announced in 2010 after the North’s alleged bombing of a South Korean corvette in March that year.

Baik highlighted a trilateral logistics project announced in 2013 involving the two Koreas and Russia as a precedent for the proposed exemption. The project involved the shipment of Russian coal into South Korea through the North Korean port city of Rajin.

However, experts here are concerned that North Korea may be pushing the limits of the international community’s patience.

“It seems North Korea proposed the use of Mangyongbong-92 as a message asking South Korea and the international community to lift layers of sanctions imposed on it,” said Shin Beom-chul, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

“Such a proposal could be greenlighted through the Olympic overture, but South Korea needs to maintain a clear stance on the North’s nuclear issues and keep close cooperation with the US on the matter,” added Shin.

This is not the first time the liberal Moon government has had to discuss matters involving cross-border travel plans linked to sanctions violations with the US.

The two held talks over flying a South Korean aircraft to the North last week to transport skiers for a joint ski training session, and bringing North Korean Olympians back with the skiers on the return flight.

Although Seoul and Washington both said the matter was “smoothly” resolved, the cross-border flight was not confirmed until the last minute, leaving critics here somewhat baffled.

North Korea is well-aware that crossing the border by ship could violate sanctions. North Korea’s state-media Korea Central News Agency said last month that South Korean “conservative media” and some groups claim “the use of Mangyongbong-92 and Air Koryo during the Olympic period falls foul of the ‘independent sanctions’ by the US and South Korea.” Air Koryo is the North’s state-run airline.

Mangyongbong-92 transported the North’s cheering squad to the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, the South’s southern port city.

The art troupe’s first performance is to be held at Gangneung Arts Center on Thursday, followed by a concert at the National Theater of Korea in Seoul on Sunday. A 23-member advance team overseeing technical aspects of the performances arrived separately around noon Monday via a western land route.

Hyon Song-wol, the head of the Samjiyon art troupe, is expected to arrive in the South on Tuesday to prepare for the upcoming performances.

South Korea is hoping North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics will eventually lead to talks for denuclearization.

By Jung Min-kyung (