North Korea has retracted its planned participation in next month’s summer Universiade in Gwangju in protest against the upcoming launch of a U.N. human rights office in Seoul, the event’s organizers said Monday.
Pyongyang announced the decision late Friday via email under the name of Jon Kuk-man, chairman of its university sports association. It had planned to dispatch 75 athletes and 33 officials to the competition set for a 12-day run from July 3.
“The letter cited political reasons resulting from the establishment of the U.N. human rights office in Seoul,” Kim Yoon-suk, secretary-general of the steering committee, said at a news conference.
“We’re working to verify the true intentions behind the email in cooperation with the Unification Ministry. … It is still premature to conclude that North Korea’s pullout has been confirmed.”
Yoon Jang-hyun, mayor of Gwangju and president of the panel, expressed regret but expressed his hope of a possible turnaround in Pyongyang’s decision.
“With an open mind, we will hope for and request North Korea’s participation until the last minute.”
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is scheduled to open the field structure here on Tuesday to monitor and document the oppressive regime’s rampant rights breaches in line with a recommendation in February 2014 by the Commission of Inquiry.
The project has incurred the wrath of the Kim Jong-un regime as the COI’s landmark report brought global attention to the issue to a new height. In its wake, the U.N. Security Council formally set North Korea’s dismal human rights situation as a standalone item on its agenda for the first time last year, paving the way to bring perpetrators including the young ruler to justice.
“Human rights is a universal value, and it should not be a problem to host an office of international organizations such as one for human rights,” ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said at a press briefing.
Even in times of heightened tension, sports events have long set the rare stage for inter-Korean people-to-people exchanges, especially given Kim’s widely reported affection for them.
The communist neighbor also took part in the Daegu Universiade in 2003, and the Asian Games in 2002 in Busan and 2014 in Incheon.
Pyongyang’s latest announcement marks yet another setback to Seoul’s efforts to break the long-festering cross-border standoff and bring about a thaw as the two Koreas celebrate the 70th anniversary of the peninsula’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule this year.
Under its initial plan unveiled in March, North Korea sought to compete in athletics, diving, artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, table tennis, judo, women’s football and handball.
But the outlook for its participation had grown murky in recent weeks after it repeatedly missed the deadlines for formal registration.
The regime’s about-face is also likely to set a hurdle for the competition because some events such as women’s football and handball may have to redraw lots.
By Shin Hyon-hee (email@example.com)