SEOUL – More than 100 musicians of North Korea’s Samjiyon Orchestra arrived on Tuesday at a port in South Korea, where they are set to hold two historic concerts coinciding with the PyeongChang Winter Games and where they were welcomed amid tight security.
The ferry Mangyongbong-92 arrived at the South’s Mukho port some 186 kilometers east of Seoul on the east coast at around 5pm after crossing via the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime boundary between North and South Korea, a Unification Ministry spokesperson told EFE.
Hours before the ship’s arrival, anti-North Korean activists held a rally near the port against the orchestra’s arrival, considering that its concerts represent an act of propaganda in favor of the regime, reported Yonhap news agency.
Protesters also burned photos of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
However, the large security cordon deployed around the docks of the port prevented journalists and onlookers from seeing little more than the deck of the ship.
The orchestra, named after the North Korean county in the foothills of Mount Paektu – considered a sacred place by the regime – seems to have been formed expressly for these Games and is led by the artist Hyon Song-wol.
Hyon is also the head of the famous band Moranbong, and is rumored to have been Kim Jong-un’s partner.
Mukho port is located just over 30 kilometers south of Gangneung, where the orchestra will hold its first concert on Feb. 8, the eve of the opening of the Games.
The orchestra is expected to remain in the area during the first few days, and the ship will head for North Korea when the group travels to Seoul for its second concert on Feb. 11, before returning to the North the following day by land.
These concerts are historic ones, given the fact that North Korean artists can rarely travel and perform in the South, and are the result of an historic agreement reached between the two countries – which are technically still at war – facilitating the participation of the North in the Winter Games taking place in the South Korean county of PyeongChang.
Seoul had to make an exception to allow the ship, as North Korean vessels are not allowed to visit South Korea under Seoul’s unilateral sanctions banning inter-Korean exchanges, which were imposed in 2010.