North Korea competes in shooting championships in the South

North Korean athletes rarely compete in South Korea. (AFP pic)

SEOUL: North Korean shooters were competing for the first time on Saturday in a World Championships held in the South in the latest round of cross-border sports diplomacy.

The competitors were among 1,800 athletes from 90 nations taking part in the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) event in South Korea.

It marked the first time that the North had participated in an ISSF event in the South, the federation said.

The athletes are competing for places at the Tokyo Olympics.

The 22-member North Korean delegation, made up of 12 athletes and 10 officials, were warmly welcomed by South Korean fans when they landed at Gimhae International Airport on Friday.

About 100 people, carrying banners reading “We Are One”, waved white and blue Korean unification flags and chanted the North Korean welcome song “Glad to meet you”.

The North Koreans, wearing white jackets and pink ties, initially looked nervous but responded with smiles and greetings.

“With North Korea’s participation, our world championships will send a message of peace,” Huh Sung-moo, mayor of the city of Changwon where the contest is being held, said.

Sporting cooperation helped spark the rapid thaw in relations between Pyongyang and Seoul, after the North sent a high-level delegation, athletes, cheerleaders and performers to February’s Winter Olympics in the South.

The two Koreas formed their first-ever unified Olympic team, a joint women’s ice hockey squad, for the Pyeongchang Games. The neighbours also fielded joint teams at the ongoing Asian Games in Indonesia.

The two Koreas agreed to increase sporting exchanges at a landmark summit between the South’s President Moon Jae-in and the North’s leader Kim Jong-un in April.