Two Koreas to march separately at Paralympics opening today

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea: North and South Korean athletes will march separately at the Winter Paralympics opening ceremony, organisers said on Thursday, despite a recent Olympics-driven detente between the neighbours.
International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons said the body was “disappointed” but did not give a reason for the decision. The opening ceremony will take place on Friday.
The two Koreas had marched together at the opening of last month’s Winter Olympics under a neutral “unification flag”, part of an intense rapprochement that also saw the North send hundreds of cheerleaders and leader Kim Jong Un’s sister to the ceremony.
Seoul responded by sending President Moon Jae-in’s special envoys — including his spy chief — to Pyongyang, where leader Kim told them he was willing to discuss denuclearisation with the US.
Seoul has since announced plans to hold a historic summit between the North’s leader and Moon. The detente came after tensions had soared last year when Pyongyang dramatically ramped up its weapons programme.
The North is sending two cross-country skiers — Kim Jong Hyon and Ma Yu Chol — to the Winter Paralympics, the first time it has ever sent athletes to the event, and the IPC had offered athletes from the neighbours the chance to march together at the opening ceremony.
But after lengthy negotiations between both countries on Thursday, the IPC said the athletes had decided to parade separately.
“Although we are disappointed, we respect the decision of the two (committees) who decided that marching separately would be better for both parties,” said IPC president Parsons in a statement.
“I think having North Korea participate in Pyeongchang 2018 is a great step forward for the Paralympic movement.”
He did not give a reason but the North’s athletes may not have been keen to march alongside a defector.
South Korean ice hockey player Choi Kwang-hyouk was born in the North and lost a leg in a train accident as a child, before later defecting to the South.
Meanwhile, Washington’s top diplomat Rex Tillerson said on Thursday the United States was “a long way from negotiations” with North Korea, which this week made a shock offer to discuss denuclearisation.
Tillerson, who is in Ethiopia on his first-ever Africa tour, said the signals from Pyongyang may be positive but stressed negotiations with Kim Jong Un’s regime were not going to happen soon.
“I think as President Trump has indicated, (there are) potentially positive signals coming from North Korea by way of their intra-Korean dialogue with South Korea,” he told journalists.
But “in terms of direct talks… we’re a long way from negotiations, we just need to be very clear-eyed and realistic about it,” he said.