A North Korean general who allegedly plotted the sinking of a South Korean navy ship – killing 46 sailors – is set to attend the Winter Olympics closing ceremony in Pyeongchang.
Former spy chief Kim Yong Chol will lead a high-level delegation on a three-day visit to the South despite being blacklisted.
Their trip will coincide with a visit by a US delegation led by President Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka.
The arrival of Kim, one of Pyongyang’s highest ranking figures, is likely to be met by protests, as he has been accused of plotting several attacks on the South.
He was blamed for the sinking of Seoul’s Cheonan warship in March 2010, with an investigation concluding that the vessel was hit by a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine.
Kim, who was head of North Korea’s spying agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, now heads the department for inter-Korea relations,called the United Front Department, and is vice-chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee.
He is expected to attend Sunday’s closing ceremony, just 50 miles from the heavily-fortified demilitarised zone that divides the two countries, and meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
There are no plans for the eight North Koreans to meet with the US delegation led by Trump’s daughter.
The delegation will stay for three days from Sunday, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said in a statement.
A presidential official told Reuters that Seoul accepted the delegation for the good of the Games even though the South and the US have blacklisted Kim.
The official said the South had informed the US of the visit and they were in talks about the military stalwart’s entry into the country by road.
North Korea’s participation at the Olympics led to the first talks between the two countries for more than two years.
It is hoped the delegates’ visit will help to ease tensions on the peninsula and lead to further talks about denuclearisation and other issues between the Koreas and the US, one of Seoul’s most important allies.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Trump have engaged in a war of words and threats over Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear tests in defiance of UN sanctions.
The dictator’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, made a historic visit as she led a three-day visit to the opening of the Olympics earlier this month.
She stood only a few feet from US Vice President Mike Pence, who just hours earlier had called the pariah state "the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet".
They were due to meet during the Olympics, but North Korea pulled out at the last minute, it was claimed.
Kim Yo Jong and her entourage stayed at a five-star riverside hotel in Seoul.
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said the torpedo attack on the Cheonan was carried out by the North but the
government had not been able to confirm exactly who was responsible.
North Korea denied having anything to do with the sinking.
Cho appeared before South Korea’s parliament to explain why the general was leading the delegation.
He said: "Kim is in charge of South Korea affairs, which is why we’re accepting him as we believe it would help improve inter-Korean
relations and resolve the matter of denuclearisation."
Opposition legislators and anti-North Korean protesters have questioned the amount the South has spent on the delegates and athletes from across the border.
A government official said Seoul had spent about £1.5million on Kim Yo Jong and her entourage during their three day visit.