Koreas begin basketball friendlies in latest peace gesture

Korean War

Korean War

It's the fourth time the two countries have met on the basketball court and the first since October 2003.

Players from North and South Korea were mixed into two teams that competed against each other at the North Korean capital's Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong Gymnasium. Officials from the North Korean leadership who observed the games from the main podium included Choe Hwi, vice chairman of the Workers' Party's Central Committee, who chairs the State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission; Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country of the DPRK, a cabinet-level agency overlooking relations with the South; Kim Il-guk, chairman of the DPRK Olympic Committee; and Jon Kwang-ho, the DPRK vice premier.

Prosperity and Peace teams formed with a mixture of North and South Korean women players arrive at a gym in Pyongyang, North Korea, July 4, 2018.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a noted basketball fan, didn't appear at the gymnasium on Wednesday.

Some 101 South Koreans led by Unification Minister Cho, who oversees relations with the North, took two South Korean Air Force cargo planes from Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, south of Seoul, on Tuesday and landed at Pyongyang International Airport, using an air route over the Yellow Sea.

Cho's visit will overlap with a trip to Pyongyang by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is tasked with fleshing out details for the denuclearisation deal between Kim and Trump.

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South Korea's Hur Jae, who captained his side during the defeat, is now returning to Pyongyang as a coach. Ri did not attend a dinner reception for South Korean players on Tuesday, and it wasn't immediately clear whether he was at the games on Wednesday. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was not mentioned among the attendees.

President Donald Trump met Kim at a historic summit in Singapore last month and the U.S. leader has been bullish about hopes for peace, boasting that the threat of nuclear war is over.

China and North Korea see an opportunity to ask US troops to leave if and when a peace treaty is signed.

The inter-Korean summits have facilitated a slew of goodwill gestures between the Koreas, which have also agreed to field combined teams at the Asian Games.

Former NBA player Dennis Rodman arranged a game in Pyongyang in 2014 for Kim's birthday. Two rounds of inter-Korean basketball games were also played in 1999.

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