South Korea allows soccer team to compete in North Korea

SEOUL: South Korea's national women's soccer team will travel to North Korea next month to compete in the women's Asian Cup qualifying rounds.

Despite strained relations with Pyongyang, South Korea's Unification Ministry said late Thursday it approved the April 3-12 visit.

The announcement came days after the ministry permitted North Korean women's ice hockey team to stay in the South from April 1-9 to participate in the group rounds of the women's world championship in Gangneung, South Korea.

Lee Eugene, a spokeswoman at the ministry, said Friday that the 30-member North Korean ice hockey team, including coaches and support staff, was expected to arrive in the South on Saturday via a third-country airline. The 51 South Koreans the ministry permitted to travel to the North for the soccer tournament includes 10 reporters.

Lee said Seoul approved the cross-border visits in respect to "regulations and procedures" regarding international sporting events.

"We hope that the events will proceed calmly and with order considering the state of inter-Korean relations," she said.

Ties between the two countries have worsened recently as North Korea continues to expand its nuclear weapons and missile programs. The North conducted two nuclear tests last year and a series of rocket launches in past months.