July 6, 2014 9:59 pm

North Korea says it will send cheering squad to Asian Games in South Korea

South Korean soldiers patrol through the wire fences near the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, Friday, July 4, 2014.

AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea said Monday it will send a cheering squad to the coming Asian Games in 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, is aimed at promoting reconciliation between the rivals. The statement released via state media repeated North Korea’s demand the two Koreas end hostility against each other and mutual slandering.

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It also called for scrapping of South Korean military drills with foreign forces in an apparent reference to its regular training with the U.S. which the North 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, wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to South Korean officials.

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.

Tension between the two Koreas remains high after North Korea conducted a barrage of missile and rocket tests earlier this year. The two Koreas also exchanged artillery fire near a disputed western sea boundary.

© The Canadian Press, 2014

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