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Safety first for South Korea ahead of China, N Korea games

SEOUL: South Korea is taking steps to ensure the safety of its soccer players and fans as national men's and women's teams prepare for matches in China and North Korea amid tense diplomatic relations between the Asian neighbours.

Seoul's Unification Ministry said on Tuesday it had asked North Korea to provide safety assurances for its players ahead of next month's AFC Women's Asian Cup qualifier in Pyongyang.

"The government has asked North Korea to provide written assurances for the safety of South Korean football players," Yonhap quoted a ministry official as saying.

With the countries still technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce and not a peace treaty, the Seoul government must sign off on the team's trip to Pyongyang.

Earlier this month, a men's Asian Cup qualifier between North Korea and Malaysia was postponed after the Malaysian FA asked for the game to be moved away from Pyongyang following a breakdown in relations.

The countries have become embroiled in a simmering row after Malaysia accused North Korea of assassinating Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of Pyongyang ruler Kim Jong Un, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13.

'EXTRA CAUTION'

The Seoul Unification Ministry's comments follow reports that the South Korean embassy in Beijing had issued a safety warning ahead of the men's 2018 World Cup qualifier in Hunan province on Thursday.

Relations between Seoul and Beijing became strained after South Korea reached an agreement with the United States on the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system.

The United States and South Korea say THAAD is for defence against North Korea but China fears its powerful radar can probe deep into its territory and compromise security.

Yonhap said the embassy had issued a warning to South Korean nationals in China to exercise caution ahead of the AFC third round Group A encounter in Changsha.

"South Koreans staying in or visiting China must ensure they cheer on the national team in as orderly a fashion as possible," the embassy's message read.

"Please take extra caution not to cause trouble with the Chinese people with unnecessary words or actions."

(Writing by Peter Rutherford; Additional reporting by Lee Jeongeun and Lee Suyeong; Editing by John O'Brien)