South Korea approves record fund to host North Koreans during Olympics

South Korea has approved a record budget of more than two and a half million dollars to bankroll the hosting of hundreds of North Koreans during the Winter Olympics.

The South Korean Ministry of Unification on Wednesday approved 2.86 billion won (2.64 million dollars) for the costs, including for accommodation and food for the North Koreans who visited but had left as well as those who are still in the country.

A group of 424 North Koreans, including officials, journalists, cheering squad members, orchestra players, taekwondo performers, and other supporting personnel have been invited to participate in the Games. Most of the guests were housed at luxury hotels in Seoul and near the Olympics venue nearly throughout their visit.

South Korean ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said the final figure of the costs of hosting all the North Koreans would be disclosed at a later time.

Hockey players from the unified Korean team carry the Olympic flame during the opening ceremony in PyeongChang, on February 9, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

Seoul also paid the cost of hosting a high-level official delegation. That delegation, including Kim Yo-jong, the North Korean leader’s sister, stayed in the South only for three days.

The bill for the 22 North Korean athletes in the South will be paid by the International Olympics Committee.

The budget that South Korea will pay will be withdrawn from the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund, which is not the government budget and is part of the Unification Ministry’s spending budget, which was created in 1991 for North Korea-related expenditures. Its total 2018 budget is 962.4 billion won.

The approved government fund by far exceeds the 1.35 billion won that was used to pay for the 650 North Koreans who visited South Korea in 2002 for the Asian Games in the port city of Busan.

President Moon Jae-in invited North Koreans to his country after the North’s leader expressed willingness to attend the Games early in January. Both Koreas took advantage of the opportunity to improve relations and arrange high-level official meetings for the first time in more than two years.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who thanked the South for its hospitality during the Games, then invited Moon to Pyongyang for a summit later this year. On Tuesday, Kim also pledged efforts to continue the reconciliation process.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R) talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, while watching North Korea’s Samjiyon Orchestra’s performance, in Seoul, on February 11, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

The South’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon on Wednesday praised the North’s participation in the Games as a “milestone that opened up the door for building peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

“The North Korean delegation’s participation in various forms is serving as a pretty good opportunity to (achieve) Seoul’s goal to hold an Olympics of peace and becoming an important chance for harmony that improves the inter-Korean relationship and opens up the door for peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Cho was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

The two Koreas have been divided since the three-year Korean War came to an end in 1953. The conflict ended with an armistice rather than a formal peace treaty and left many families separated at the two sides.

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