South Korea's top authorities have strongly defended their decision to include North Korean athletes in the upcoming Winter Olympics, hoping that the event would pave way to improve inter-Korean relations in the region.
Rejecting criticism from conservative sections that the Kim Jong-un regime has stolen the spotlight and effectively made Pyeongchang Olympics into Pyongyang Olympics, Seoul said it will be "Peace Olympics" in February.
"We can't understand putting an outdated tag of 'Pyongyang Olympics' to the Pyeongchang Olympics, which will be a 'Peace Olympics'," presidential spokesman Park Soo-hyun told reporters. "The Moon Jae-in government's efforts to overcome the crisis on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue led to North Korea's participation in the Olympics. We are confident the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games will go beyond establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula to become priming water for global peace."
Protests erupted recently when a team of North Korean delegates visited venues in Seoul to prepare for the upcoming events. Images of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un were also burnt by anti-North Korea activists in a move that is likely to trigger tensions with the sensitive regime in Pyongyang.
Those protests had already angered the North, which warned such events are "unpardonable atrocities". A report carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency said: "If these traitors and psychopaths defaming the dignified Korean nation are allowed to go scot-free, the national reconciliation, unity and the building of a reunified powerful country will be delayed so much."
In a sign of diffusing tensions between the rival Koreas after months-long standoff, the North had earlier agreed to send its athletes for the impending Winter Olympics. Seoul hopes this could lead to opening dialogue with the reclusive nation on other topics including military-level talks, but that has not yet happened.
Seoul's defence ministry said it has still not received any response from its North Korean counterpart for an invitation of military-level negotiations.
"We continue to wait for a response [from Pyongyang]. There is nothing specific going on now but we will let you know immediately when [talks] start," said Choi Hyun-soo, a spokesperson of the ministry.