March 29, 2018 / 11:42 AM / in a month

UPDATE 1-IOC chief Bach arrives to North Korea, to stay until Saturday

* Bach to stay until Saturday

* IOC to discuss North Korean participation in future Games (Updates with IOC statement)

SEOUL, March 29 (Reuters) - International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach travelled to Pyongyang on Thursday, the Olympic body said, in a visit that comes after North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Games helped ease inter-Korean relations.

Bach will remain in North Korea until Saturday and will have meetings with the nation’s Olympic officials in a trip agreed last year as part of talks between the IOC, and North and South Korea ahead of the Games.

“The discussions will focus on the further development of sport in the DPRK after the successful participation of athletes at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, and the preparation of athletes from the National Olympic Committee of the DPRK with the objective of qualifying for and participating in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022,” the IOC said in a statement.

“This visit is part of the close cooperation and consultations the IOC enjoys with all of the 206 National Olympic Committees.”

The IOC supported North Korean athletes financiallly and in kind in their effort to qualify for Pyeongchang.

Bach told Reuters during the Feb. 9-25 Winter Olympics that he would make the visit on the North’s invitation as part of an agreement between the IOC and both North and South Korea.

Athletes from North and South Korea marched under a unified peninsula flag at the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang and the two Koreas have experienced a significant thaw in tensions since the Winter Olympics.

Bach’s exact itinerary in Pyongyang remains unclear but his visit comes amid a flurry of international outreach by North Korea.

After North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made a surprise visit to Beijing this week — his first known trip outside North Korea since taking power in 2011 — his engagement with the international community has sparked speculation that he may try to meet other leaders ahead of the summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and United States President Donald Trump.

Japan’s Asahi newspaper said on Thursday Japan had sounded out North Korea about a bilateral summit.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry announced Thursday that the two Korea had set a date to hold their first summit in more than a decade on April 27.

The two Koreas are technically still at war after the 1950-1953 conflict ended with a ceasefire, not a peace agreement. (Reporting by Heekyong Yang; Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann, Editing by Peter Rutherford and Pritha Sarkar )

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