Asian Games: Tight security for N Korea athletes

Asian Games: Tight security for N Korea athletes

INCHEON, South Korea - Hundreds of South Korean security personnel, including intelligence agents, are guarding North Korean athletes at the Asian Games as the host nation takes no chances during the showcase event, officials said Saturday.

The 150 men and women, closely watched wherever they go, gave another stern performance at the official opening ceremony on Friday night.

The crowd in the Incheon stadium gave the North Koreans one of the biggest cheers of the night but the delegation from the isolated state stared blankly ahead with barely a smile.

There was a similar stony silence for their welcome ceremony at the Incheon athletes' village on Thursday. The North Koreans looked on expressionless as a South Korean breakdance group leaped about to South Korean pop star Psy's hit "Gangnam Style".

Seven North Koreans who arrived at the weightlifting arena on Friday were escorted through security by an equal number of South Korean agents to keep spectators back.

A similar shield is thrown up whenever North Koreans, official or unofficial, come across the heavily militarised border for talks or other reasons.

The South's strict National Security Law punishes unauthorised contact with North Koreans or activities deemed to be praising or sympathising with the communist state.

The North and South have remained technically in conflict since their 1950-53 war was ended by an armistice. A recent spike in tensions prompted speculation about what kind of reception the North's delegation would get in the South.

Incheon is close to the disputed Yellow Sea maritime border between the rival Koreas, a flashpoint area for naval clashes.

Hours before the opening ceremony, a South Korean navy ship fired warning shots to end a brief incursion by a North Korean patrol boat. The North also staged a series of missile and rocket launches in July and August.

Games organisers say nearly 7,000 police have been posted across the western port city, with police swat teams and anti-terror squads on around-the-clock standby.

South Korean officials say the tensions and the presence of the North Koreans, which with coachs and minders comes to almost 240 people, requires tightened security.

Hundreds of security personnel, including intelligence agents and 28 officials from the South's unification ministry in charge of cross-border affairs, are escorting the North Koreans.

"Our staff work together with personnel from other related government bodies," a unification ministry official told AFP.

"Their mission is to escort North Koreans, ensure their safety and prevent them from getting involved in any incidents," the official added.

The North Korean flag has already proved contentious at the Asian Games, with organisers banning South Koreans from carrying them into venues.

The North's flag has also been removed from the streets around stadiums after anti-Pyongyang activists protested.

What the North Koreans think about events in the South remains a secret. The North's media, controlled with an iron-clad grip by Kim Jong-Un's government, has scarcely mentioned the Asian Games.

There was no mention of the opening ceremony on Saturday. But the Minju Joson newspaper denounced the South's government for "scattering" anti-North leaflets.

The newspaper blasted South Korean authorities as "an arch criminal of psychological warfare" against the North, said the official KCNA news agency in its press review.

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