Hundreds of South Koreans have turned out to support the North Korean women’s ice hockey team, taking part in their first game of this year’s world championships.
Nearly 300 members of a campaigning group, which is calling for the peaceful reunification of Korea, cheered on the players as they faced the Australian team in Gangneung, on the east coast of South Korea.
In spite of the roaring stadium, the North Koreans lost to Australia 2-1 – but the result did not dampen the mood, the Seoul-based news agency Yonhap reports.
Waving Korean unification flags of the Korean Peninsula coloured in blue, South Korean supporters were chanting “We Are One” and “Go Korea” while banging thunder sticks.
The North Korean players reportedly thanked the fans for their support.
The event came amid rising diplomatic tensions on the peninsula, after North Korea launched a series of rockets.
Leading the supporters was Lee Chang-bok, who told Yonhap: “We should be unified as one. We hope our enthusiasm can reach the hearts of the North Korean athletes and help lay the foundation for unification.”
The group’s officials said their members include displaced North Koreans, who settled south of the border after the Korean War. About 65 years after the war, thousands of families remain separated by the north-south Korean border.
The conflict ended with a truce but no peace treaty has ever been signed, meaning the two countries are technically still at war.
The unification committee said it will attend all five North Korean games at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women’s World Championship Division II, with a much-anticipated game against South Korea scheduled for Thursday.
The game will come on the eve of a women’s football match between the two Koreas in Pyongyang, North Korea.