North Korea Moranbong girl band leader heads Olympic inspection team

Hyon Song-wol, head of the North Korea's Samjiyon Orchestra, arrive at the Gangneung Art Centre to check the venues for its proposed art performances at Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics on 21 January 2018 in Gangneung, South KoreaImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Hyon Song-wol, pictured centre, was the star attraction during the visit to South Korea

A North Korean delegation has arrived in South Korea for a landmark visit to inspect cultural venues for next month’s Winter Olympics.

It is headed by Hyon Song-wol, leader of the popular Moranbong girl band and a big celebrity in the secretive state.

North Korea agreed to send a delegation to the games after the first high-level bilateral talks in two years.

The decision is seen as a diplomatic breakthrough after months of tension over its nuclear weapons programme.

  • North v South: A history of sport, bombs and diplomacy
  • Reality Check: How good is North Korea at sport?

Local media showed the North Korean delegation crossing the heavily-fortified border on a bus before arriving in the South Korean capital, Seoul.

Image copyright

Image caption

The delegation arrived at the Grand Unification Bridge, from where they crossed into the South

Image copyright

Image caption

The games are seen as a way of easing tension between the North and South

Surrounded by hundreds of police officers, they then boarded a train to the eastern city of Gangneung.

But it was on Hyon Song-wol that South Korea’s cameras were focused.

She and her 10-member Moranbong band are the glamorous face of North Korea – and have been described as Pyongyang’s answer to the Spice Girls.

Often seen wearing miniskirts and high heels, they perform a mixture of Western-style pop and patriotic songs – in a style seen as quaintly provincial by South Koreans, AFP news agency reports.

Ms Hyon was once rumoured to have been a former girlfriend of the leader Kim Jong-un, although this has been dismissed by North Korea watchers.

She will lead the 140-member Samjiyon art troupe, which is due to give two performances – one in Seoul and another in Gangneung – during the Olympics.

  • North Korea’s cheerleading charm offensive
  • The coach who helped North Korea’s skaters qualify for the Olympics

The delegation’s two-day visit is expected to be the first of several to prepare for Pyongyang’s participation in the games.

It is the first visit by Pyongyang officials to the South for four years, reports say.

The delegation includes athletes, officials and cheerleaders.

Another team will visit the South this week to check logistics for North Korean athletes, while Seoul will send its own officials to the North’s ski resort to inspect the venue.