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Koreas Hold Friendly Soccer Matches

August 6, 1999

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ Despite high tensions on the divided Korean peninsula, labor leaders from the two nations said Friday they were ready to build better relations on the soccer field.

After three days of talks in Beijing, the labor leaders agreed to hold a soccer match among their workers next Thursday in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. The teams will play a second match the next day, South Korea’s Confederation of Trade Unions said.

The matches will be the first sports exchange between workers from the two countries, which were divided into the communist North and the capitalist South at the end of World War II. The nations are technically still at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

In May, labor representatives from both countries decided to hold soccer matches in their capitals _ one in Pyongyang in August and the other in Seoul within a year.

But the plan was in doubt since tension has recently escalated over North Korea’s missile program. Despite warnings from Washington, the North reportedly is preparing to test-fire a long-range missile that could hurt stability in Northeast Asia.

On Tuesday, North Korea’s General Federation of Trade Unions proposed that the groups go ahead with the matches.

Thirty-seven South Korean workers and labor leaders will travel to the North. No journalists will be allowed.

In 1990, the national teams of the two countries played two friendly matches, each winning one. But political tension stymied efforts for further sports exchanges.

Update hourly