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North Korea to send athletes, cheer squad to Winter Olympics in South Korea

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SEOUL — North Korea during rare talks with the South on Tuesday said it will send a delegation of high-ranking officials, athletes and a cheering squad to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea next month, according to a senior South Korean official.

During talks, Seoul proposed athletes from the two Koreas march together at the opening ceremony, and engage in other joint activities during the Games. Seoul also proposed inter-Korean military talks to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula and a reunion of family members in time for February’s Lunar New Year holiday, said South Korea’s vice unification minister Chun Hae-sung.

“North Korea said that they are determined to make today’s talks fruitful, and make it a ground-breaking opportunity,” South Korea’s vice unification minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters.

“North Korea said that they are determined to make today’s talks fruitful, and make it a groundbreaking opportunity,” Chun said.

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Chun also said the South Koreans proposed resuming negotiations over the North’s nuclear program but there was no specific response from the North Korea.

The talks are being closely watched by world leaders eager for any sign of a reduction in tensions on the Korean peninsula amid rising fears over North Korea’s missile launches and development of nuclear weapons in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The meeting was to continue on Tuesday afternoon after the two sides broke up for separate lunches. It began at 10am (0100 GMT) in the three-storey Peace House just across the demilitarized zone on the South Korean side of Panmunjom truce village.

However, North Korean officials said during the meeting they were open to promoting reconciliation between the two countries through dialogue and negotiation, according to Chun.

The head of the North Korean delegation, Ri Son Gwon, said in opening remarks: “We came to this meeting today with the thought of giving our brethren, who have high hopes for this dialogue, invaluable results as the first present of the year …””

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9 Syrians freeze to death while crossing to Lebanon

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BEIRUT — At least nine Syrians froze to death crossing into Lebanon when an icy storm hit a smuggling route in the mountains near a border post with Syria in the early hours of Friday, Lebanon’s army says.

Military officials said in a statement the Syrians, including two children and six women, were caught in a strong snowstorm while trying to cross the mountainous frontier between the two nations.

The military said in a statement that the bodies were found on a people-smuggling route in the early hours of Friday after a snowstorm hit the Masnaa area, where Lebanon’s largest official border crossing with Syria is located.

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“The army saved six other displaced Syrians, one of whom died later in a hospital from frostbite,” the statement added, raising the death toll to 10.

“The bodies were taken to the hospitals in the area, and the army continues to search for other displaced people trapped in the snow, in order to evacuate them and provide medical treatment for them.”

The army arrested two Syrians on smuggling charges and is still searching for others lost in the snow.

Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have now all closed their border crossings to Syrian refugees.

Syrians wishing to enter Lebanon must prove to Lebanese authorities they have reason to be in Lebanon, such as property ownership, an embassy appointment, or a residency permit.

Reuters/AP

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