North Korea is to send cheerleaders along with its athletes to the Asian Games in South Korea as a gesture of peace.
Pyongyang’s move comes after weeks of firing off rockets and bellicose rhetoric.
The North has already confirmed it is sending 150 athletes to the Games, which take place in September in the South Korean port city of Incheon.
The event sees more than 40 Asian countries compete and is the world’s second-largest multi-sport event after the Olympics.
Now it has been revealed the North’s cheerleaders will also attend the Games, the first time in almost a decade.
The cheerleaders and athletes are being sent to “improve relationships” between the North and South, according to a statement reported by Pyongyang’s state news agency, KCNA.
North and South Korea are technically still at war after their 1950-53 civil conflict ended in a truce.
North Korea boycotted the 1986 Asian Games and 1988 Olympics, both in Seoul, but has attended sporting events in other cities. Since the early 2000s, it has dispatched cheerleaders to three tournaments in South Korea.
The mostly female squads were called an “army of beauties” by the country’s media and have often received more attention than the North’s athletes.
The cheerleaders have proved a huge attraction in rare appearances in the South since the war. Their tightly choreographed routines and messages of peace and unification have been welcomed by audiences.
In 2005, North Korea sent 101 cheerleaders, including Ri Sol Ju, who has since married the state’s leader, Kim Jong Un, to the Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon.
“It is necessary to put an end to all kinds of calumnies and vituperation that foster misunderstanding and distrust among the fellow countrymen,” a spokesman for the North Korean government said in a statement carried yesterday by KCNA.
It read: “We have decided to dispatch a cheerleading squad along with the athletes to the 17th Asian Games in order to improve relationships between the North and the South and to create an atmosphere of national reconciliation.”
North Korea, which has threatened a fourth nuclear test in violation of United Nations sanctions, last week demanded the South halt joint military drills with the United States.
South Korea rejected the demand and urged Pyongyang to take steps to end its nuclear weapons programme.
The North has test-fired short-range missiles and rockets three times in the past ten days and has threatened to continue doing so.
However, analysts believe the country is seeking to improve ties with the South and other countries to attract foreign investment and aid to revive its economy.
Missile and rocket tests conducted before Chinese president Xi Jinping visited South Korea last week were seen as a protest against him visiting the South before its northern ally.
North and South Korea have been divided along a heavily fortified border since the 1950s.