S. Korea Pop Stars to Perform in Rare N. Korea Concert


Top South Korean musical acts including a K-pop girlband are set to hold a rare concert in North Korea Sunday evening in the latest reconciliatory gesture before a rare inter-Korean summit. 

Sunday's event -- which will be the first concert by South Korean artists in the North for more than a decade -- comes as a diplomatic thaw quickens on the peninsula after months of military tensions. 

The 120-member group -- 11 musical acts as well as dancers, technicians and taekwondo artists -- flew to Pyongyang on Saturday to perform concerts on Sunday as well as on Tuesday. 

South Korean singers held a rehearsal Sunday afternoon at the 1,500-seat East Pyongyang Grand Theater where the concert is set to begin at 7 pm (1030 GMT), according to South Korean pool photos. 

The taekwondo athletes are also expected to stage a performance in Pyongyang on Sunday before performing together with the North's practitioners on Monday.  

The rapprochement was triggered by the South's Winter Olympics, to which the North's leader Kim Jong Un sent athletes, cheerleaders and his powerful sister as an envoy.

Kim followed up by agreeing to a summit with the South's President Moon Jae-in, and reportedly to another with U.S. President Donald Trump. The young leader also met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing last week during his first overseas trip.

The inter-Korean summit, the third after meetings in 2000 and 2007, will be held on April 27. No date has been set for the U.S.-North Korean summit although it is expected before the end of May.

In another sign of eased tensions, annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises which got under way in the South Sunday will last for just one month compared to some two months normally.

This year's drills feature fewer strategic weapons such as a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Seoul's military has said. The deployment of such powerful weaponry during past drills has frequently drawn an angry response from the North.

The most closely-watched group due to perform Sunday is Red Velvet, part of the South's hugely popular K-pop phenomenon that has taken audiences in Asia and beyond by storm in recent decades.

The five-member girlband is known for a mix of upbeat electronic music, stylish fashion and high-voltage choreography. 

Joy, one of the five members, would miss the trip to Pyongyang due to her TV drama shooting schedule, their agency has said.

Despite the North's isolation and strict curbs on unauthorized foreign culture, backed up by prison terms, K-pop has become increasingly popular there thanks to flash drives smuggled across the border with China. 

Other Seoul stars to join the concerts include Cho Yong-pil, a singer who held a solo sell-out concert in Pyongyang in 2005.

Kim's late father and longtime ruler, Kim Jong Il, was known to be a fan of the 68-year-old singer.

Another famed singer, Choi Jin-hee, is set to perform for the fourth time in the North and to sing "Maze of Love" -- a pan-peninsula hit and one of the late Kim's favorites.

It was unclear whether Kim Jong Un would make an appearance at the concerts. President Moon attended a concert by North Korean singers in Seoul to mark the opening of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February. 

"I hope that something similar will happen during this concert held in response (to the North's Seoul concert)," Do Jong-hwan, Seoul's culture minister leading the delegation, told reporters in Pyongyang.

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