UN agrees sanctioned N.Korea official to attend Olympics

UNITED NATIONS The UN Security Council on Thursday gave permission for a North Korean official under international sanctions to travel to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics along with Kim Jong Un’s sister, diplomats said.

South Korea presented on Wednesday a request to the council’s sanctions committee for an exemption to the travel ban imposed on Choe Hwi, chairman of North Korea’s National Sports Guidance Committee.

North Korea agreed in January to send a delegation to the Olympics and to hold talks with South Korea, easing tensions that have soared over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests.

Choe was sanctioned in June last year as a senior director of the propaganda and agitation department of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party.

The committee granted the exemption to Choe after no council member raised objections to the request, a council diplomat said.

North Korea is under multiple sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, which have seen it develop rockets theoretically capable of reaching the US mainland.

The exemption will also be extended to all members of the delegation, meaning that a ban on luxury goods to North Korea will be temporarily lifted - a measure that would allow for gifts, for instance.

Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korea’s leader and a senior member of the Workers’ Party, will be part of the delegation due to arrive on Friday.

The 23-member delegation will be led by North Korea’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam and will also include Ri Son Gwon, who as head of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country is responsible for inter-Korean affairs.

Aside from the four top officials, the delegation will comprise 16 support staff, South Korea told the sanctions committee.

UN diplomats said the approval was expected as council members support the sports détente between North and South Korea.

In a letter to the committee, South Korea said the visit "will serve as a timely opportunity to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula and beyond by promoting an environment conducive to a peaceful, diplomatic, and political solution concerning the situation on the peninsula".

A total of 78 individuals and 54 entities are currently on the UN sanctions blacklist, hit with a global travel ban and assets freeze. AFP

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