February 2, 2018 / 11:16 AM / 15 days ago

UPDATE 1-Paralympics-North Korea invited to participate in Pyeongchang

* North Korean skiers invited to Paralympics

* North and South to march together at opening ceremony

* North Korea has never before taken part in Winter Paralympics (Adds detail)

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Two North Korean Nordic skiers have been invited to take part in next month’s Pyeongchang Paralympics, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said on Friday.

North Korea would march together with South Korean athletes under a unified flag at the opening ceremony on March 9 if the offer was accepted, it added in a statement.

“Now that we have offered two bipartite slots to North Korean athletes I am extremely hopeful that the country will compete at its first Paralympic Winter Games this March,” said IPC president Andrew Parsons.

Bipartite invitations are made on a discretionary basis by the IPC and the respective international federation for the sport.

The Paralympics take place after the Feb. 9-25 Winter Olympics in the South Korean mountain resort.

North Korean athletes are due to take part in those Games, which will also see the two countries compete with a joint women’s ice hockey team and march together under one flag.

North and South Korea remain technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

Tensions escalated dramatically last year as the North Korean regime of Kim Jong Un stepped up its programme aimed at developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the United States.

The IPC said it had invited North Korean para Nordic skiers Jonghyon Kim and Yuchol Ma, who both competed at a World Cup in Oberried, Germany, last month with funding from the Asian Paralympic Committee and Agitos Foundation.

North Korea has competed previously at Summer Paralympics, with two athletes in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and one in London four years earlier.

“We want as many countries as possible competing at the Pyeongchang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games and I think North Korea’s participation will send out a very strong message of bringing peace through sport,” said Parsons.

“For both countries to march together at the opening and closing ceremonies will be a very special and historic moment and the result of a fantastic team effort by many parties.”

The IPC said the North Korean team would, like all nations competing at the March 9-18 Paralympics, receive a travel grant provided by the organising committee. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Larry King and Toby Davis)

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