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story.lead_photo.caption Posters showing the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic mascot are displayed as a South Korean army soldier stands guard at the Unification Observation post in Goseong, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. The rival Koreas agreed Wednesday to form their first unified Olympic team and have their athletes parade together for the first time in 11 years during the opening ceremony of next month's Winter Olympics in South Korea, officials said.

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea on Friday canceled plans to send a delegation led by the head of an art troupe to South Korea over the weekend to check preparations for the group's attendance at next month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said North Korea didn't explain why it was "suspending" the two-day visit by the seven-member advance team that it proposed just hours earlier through a cross-border communication channel.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the visit, which was to begin today, was canceled or postponed. The ministry said it will try to gather further information from the North regarding the decision.

The rival Koreas earlier this week agreed that the 140-member Samjiyon art troupe, which will include singers, dancers and orchestra members, will perform twice in South Korea during the games, in a sign of warming ties between the countries. It will be part of a North Korean Olympic delegation that will also include athletes, officials, state media reporters, a cheering group and a taekwondo demonstration team.

South Korea has also proposed that it send a 12-member delegation to North Korea on Tuesday to inspect preparations for a joint cultural event at the North's scenic Diamond Mountain and a training session between non-Olympic skiers at the North's Masik ski resort ahead of the Olympics in the South, the ministry said.

The little-known Samjiyon art troupe is led by Hyon Song Wol, who also heads the popular female Moranbong Band hand-picked by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Hyon has been the focus of intense South Korean media interest since she attended inter-Korean talks at the border Monday that reached agreement on the troupe's visit. Hyon's gestures during the talks as well as her makeup, looks, navy blue suit and green shoulder bag received widespread coverage.

The reconciliation mood between the Koreas began after Kim said in a New Year's speech that he was willing to send a delegation to the Olympics.

While South Korea hopes to use the games to improve relations with its rival after a year of animosity involving North Korea's rapidly expanding nuclear weapons program, some experts view Kim's overture as an attempt to weaken U.S.-led international sanctions against the North and buy time to advance his nuclear weapons program.

Hyon is also an alternate member of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee. Her visit would have made her the highest-profile North Korean to visit South Korea since its International Olympic Committee representative, Chang Ung, visited in July.

Information for this article was contributed by Kim Tong-hyung of The Associated Press.

A Section on 01/20/2018

Print Headline: N. Korea scrubs trip to South

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