The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hosts keep northern cousins under wraps

Busan, Oct. 5: They are the most sought after contingent at the 14th Asian Games. And yet, there’s no way to establish contact with them. They are the North Koreans, the most pampered lot in this harbour city of South Korea.

There was always this fear of an extensive security blanket over the North Koreans. The very nature of their relationship with South made it mandatory for the hosts to make sure there was not even the outside chance of any ‘mishap.’ But what has actually transpired here defies logic.

The athletes are out of bounds at all venues, being escorted in and out by black-clad security men with the letter ‘X’ embossed on their uniform. So tight is this security cordon that even an accidental contact with a North Korean participant is impossible.

Forget one-on-one interviews with top weightlifters or paddlers, the North Koreans are not available for post-event press conferences too.

The scene is no different at the Main Media Centre. The North Korean group has been allotted a well-guarded separate cubicle from which they are transmitting their stories and photographs without any disturbance.

A South Korean newsman, desperate for some information about a North footballer who had scored against Pakistan, was stopped by National Intelligence Agency personnel and told to obtain written permission from the National Olympic Committee chairman and the security chief to speak to the ‘guarded’ journalists.

“They are even escorted to the toilet by these securitymen,” said the frustrated South Korean journalist. It’s not that these North Koreans themselves want to be secluded from the rest of the Games fraternity, they are being forced to by their over-cautious hosts.

The 300-strong official North Korean contingent has been allotted separate floors at the Athletes’ Village, while the 300-odd supporters are staying on the ship which ferried them to Busan from Pyongyang.

“The government doesn’t want the public from the North and South to interact lest there be any altercation… so they have not been granted accommodation at city hotels,” a Games official said. The message from the organizers is clear — the North Koreans can be seen, not heard or felt.

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