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North Korea has agreed to play a soccer friendly against trade union members from the South, but the ball is in the South Korean government's court to decide whether the match will take place, officials said Monday, May 9, 2016.

North Korea has agreed to play a soccer friendly against trade union members from the South, but the ball is in the South Korean government's court to decide whether the match will take place, officials said Monday, May 9, 2016. (Courtesy of Wikicommons)

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has agreed to play a soccer friendly against trade union members from the South, but the ball is in the South Korean government’s court to decide whether the match will take place, officials said Monday.

Two of South Korea’s largest trade union umbrella groups sent a fax on May 1 to the North suggesting a match on Aug. 15. The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency announced the agreement Friday, the opening day of the country’s first ruling party congress in more than three decades.

The date is significant for both countries because it marks the liberation of the peninsula from Japanese colonial rule.

“We fully support the proposal for holding the games in Seoul on August 15,” KCNA reported, citing a letter by the Central Committee of the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea. It also suggested organizing a working group in China “or in any place at any time you deem convenient” to prepare for the match.

It would be the second such match in less than a year. South Korea’s Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions sent a large delegation to Pyongyang to play in October. The sides agreed at that time to hold a follow-up match in Seoul.

But it was unclear if there is political appetite for such a match as tensions have risen sharply on the divided peninsula after North Korea staged its fourth nuclear test in January, followed by a long-range rocket launch that prompted harsh new U.N. sanctions.

Seoul has suspended almost all civilian exchanges between the countries.

Eom Mi-kyung, who heads the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions’ unification department, said the organizations were contacting the South Korean government to facilitate a preparatory meeting next month for the match.

The Unification Ministry said it had not received requests from the trade unions and had no immediate comment.

gamel.kim@stripes.comTwitter: @kimgamel


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