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Koreas to unite, at play

Seoul, Nov. 1 (Reuters): North and South Korea agreed today to compete as a single team for the first time at the 2006 Asian Games and at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, a South Korean official said.

North and South Korea have been bitter ideological -- and sporting -- rivals for more than 50 years and are gradually building closer relations across the Demilitarised Zone.

“We had discussed making a single team since we jointly marched in such international events six times,” Baek Sung-il, a spokesman for South Korea’s Olympic Committee, said by telephone from Macau.

“As exchanges between South and North Korea have been progressing, the mood was ripe for reaching such an agreement.”

Both Koreas are taking part in the East Asia Games in Macau. They marched together at that opening ceremony and more notably at the Sydney and Athens Olympics, but have not competed as one team at such major events.

Baek said the two sides would meet again in Kaesong, a city just north of the Demilitarised Zone, on December 7 to discuss the details of how to form a joint team.

Prior to the East Asia Games in Macau, North Korea suggested that the sports officials from the two Koreas try and thrash out details of forming joint teams on the sidelines of the event, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

The selection process for the joint team and its budget have yet to be worked out, Yonhap cited South Korean sports officials in Macau as saying.

The communist North and capitalist South formed a single table tennis team and a soccer team in the 1990s but the experiment did not continue.

At the 2004 Athens Olympics, North Korea won five medals while South Korea won 30. Their joint total of 35 would have been good enough for seventh on the medals list between Japan and France.

The games breakthrough came as China proposed to other parties in the six-way talks on North Korea’s nuclear programmes that they start a next round of negotiations on November 9, Kyodo news agency said on Tuesday.

None of the participants have raised objections to the plan, although they differ over how long the talks should last, Kyodo said in a report.

The next round of six-party talks among North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the US had been expected to take place next week, but no date has been set.

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