North Korea to send 22 athletes to next month's Winter Olympics

North and South Korean athletes will march under a Korean Unification Flag during the opening ceremony

North Korea to send 22 athletes to next month's Winter Olympics

International Olympic Committee, IOC, President Thomas Bach, center, from Germany shakes hands with North Korea's Olympic Committee President and sports minister Kim Il Guk, left, and South Korea's Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan, right. Picture by: LAURENT GILLIERON/AP/Press Association Images

North Korea is taking 22 athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month - and the two countries will march under a single flag at the opening ceremony.

The plan, which was agreed between officials from the two countries earlier this week, has been confirmed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

North Korean athletes will compete in four separate skating and skiing events, as well as fielding a unified women's ice hockey side with the hosts.

In a statement, IOC President Thomas Bach observed: "Let us not forget that such an agreement would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago. In this respect, I would like to express my most sincere thanks to the governments of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea for paving the way for these decisions in the Olympic spirit.

"The Olympic Games are always about building bridges. They never erect walls. The Olympic spirit is about respect, dialogue and understanding."

He noted that the Korean delegates with march under the Korean Unification Flag during the opening ceremony, in what he suggested would be a "very emotional moment not only for all Koreans but also for the entire world." 

Mr Bach added: "The Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 are hopefully opening the door to a brighter future on the Korean peninsula, and inviting the world to join in a celebration of hope." 

This month has seen the first talks between North and South Korea in two years, with officials meeting at Panmunjom 'truce village' in the Demilitarised Zone that serves as the border between the two countries.

The PyeongChang games get underway on February 9th.