Winter Olympics 2018: North Korea will send 22 athletes to South Korea for five events

Ajay Nair, News Reporter

North Korea will send 22 athletes to next month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang where they will join South Korean teammates as they march together at the opening ceremony, organisers say.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach confirmed the North Korean competitors would take part in five sports, including a unified women's hockey team.

Speaking in Switzerland, he said the other disciplines included Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, figure skating and short track speed skating.

Twenty-four North Korean coaches and officials will also join the athletes for the winter games, which takes place between 9 and 25 February.

Mr Bach offered his "sincere thanks" to the North Korean and South Korean governments on Saturday.

The latest announcement comes after North Korea's Kim Jong Un signalled three weeks ago that athletes representing the rogue nation could take part in the events.

Seoul's Unification Ministry said North and South Korea would form their first joint Olympic team earlier this week.

The two states are also set to march under a joint Unification Flag, which features the whole peninsula and surrounding islands on a blue and white background.

It was last used in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy.

North Korea will also send 230 cheerleaders, 140 artists and 30 taekwondo players for a demonstration and will start arriving in South Korea on 25 January.

Officials have said it will send a 140-piece orchestra for the games too.

The move comes despite North and South Korea still being technically at war with each other and growing tensions with the West over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.

Following the developments this week, Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono warned countries not to be naive about the "charm offensive".

He said: "It is not the time to ease pressure, or to reward North Korea.

"The fact that North Korea is engaging in dialogue could be interpreted as proof that the sanctions are working."