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North and South Korea to march separately at Paralympics

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PyeongChang: South Korea and North Korea will march separately at the opening ceremony of the Winter Paralympics.

Unlike last month's Winter Olympics in the mountain resort town of PyeongChang, which will be remembered for the two Koreas marching side by side in a show of unity, representatives of the two national Paralympic committees decided not to march under the same conditions.

Discussions between the committees described as "amicable and positive" were held in the Paralympic Village on Thursday.

“Although we are disappointed, we respect the decision of the two NPCs who decided that marching separately would be better for both parties," said Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee.

"The IOC made great progress in opening up dialogue between the two nations ahead of last month’s Olympic Winter Games and I think having North Korea participate in PyeongChang 2018 is a great step forward for the Paralympic movement.

“During today’s discussions it was clear that NPC North Korea respects and values the IPC’s vision and mission. Going forward, it has committed to working further with the IPC to improve the lives of people with an impairment in North Korea."

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North Korea will be represented by two athletes at its first winter Paralympics after making its Paralympics debut in London six years ago.

Ma Yu Chol and Kim Jony Hyon will compete in the sitting cross country skiing event after receiving wildcard invitations from organisers.

A North Korean delegation of up to 24 people crossed the border into South Korea on Wednesday.

More than 500 athletes from 49 nations are competing at the Winter Paralympics with North Korea, Georgia and Tajikistan represented for the first time.

Significantly, about 30 Russian disabled athletes will compete under the banner of Neutral Paralympic Athletes (NPA) after the IPC continued its hard-line on tainted Russians, choosing not to lift a ban on the country imposed in the lead-up to the Summer Paralympics in Brazil two years ago.

Parsons acknowledged the Russian Paralympic Committee had made some improvements amidst the fall-out from Russia’s state-orchestrated drug regime.

"It’s not about sending messages, it’s about making sure we have a level playing field for all the athletes here," he said.

"After the blanket ban in Rio we have worked a lot through the independent task force with the Russian Paralympic Committee.

"They have still not met the criteria in full, that’s why we don’t have the Russian team competing here, we have a group of individuals that we are calling the Neutral Paralympic Athletes team.

“We can definitely look in the eyes of the other athletes and say we have done the best that we can to provide for them a level playing field.”

There are nine days of competition in the Winter Paralympics, starting on Saturday.

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