SEOUL: North Korea has announced it will boycott next month’s World University Games in South Korea in protest at the opening in Seoul of a UN office to monitor Pyongyang’s human rights record, organisers said Monday.
The North had offered to send 75 athletes and 33 officials to the games, also known as the Universiade, in the southern city of Gwangju from July 3-14.
But the North last Friday emailed the Gwangju Universiade organising committee to announce it was pulling out, officials said.
“I hereby inform you that we are unable to participate in (the) 28th Summer Universiade,” read the English message e-mailed by Jon Kuk-Man, chairman of the North’s University Sports Association.
A copy of the message was made public by an opposition lawmaker based in Gwangju.
Jon accused the South of pursuing “military confrontation” and said the UN office drove inter-Korean relations to “the extreme situation” and “cooled down our atmosphere to participate in the games”.
Gwangju mayor Yoon Jang-Hyun, president of the organising committee, urged the North to change its mind.
“With an open mind, we will wait until the last minute for North Korea to participate,” he was quoted by Yonhap news agency as saying.
North Korea has several times threatened the South with “merciless punishment” it went ahead with the opening of the UN office, planned for Tuesday.
The United Nations proposed opening the field office following a searing report by a UN commission which concluded the North was committing human rights violations “without parallel in the contemporary world”.
The report formed the basis of a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly urging the Security Council to consider referring Pyongyang to the International Criminal Court.
Despite Pyongyang’s move, Gwangju Universiade organisers held out hope it would still take part.
“We don’t regard the email as North Korea’s final decision because the FISU has yet to receive the same email from Pyongyang,” a committee official said on condition of anonymity, referring to the International University Sports Federation which runs the Universiade.
“We are trying to persuade North Korea through the international body… and still hope it will send athletes to Gwangju,” she added.
– Calls to stop criticising UN office –
South Korea’s unification ministry urged Pyongyang to stop criticising the UN office, which is to begin its work after a ceremony Tuesday to be attended by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
“Our government does not see any problem in the establishment of a UN organisation like the UN human rights office in our country,” said ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-Cheol.
“Therefore, North Korea should not criticise it but work with the UN and the international community to improve the human rights of its people and the quality of their lives.”
Cross-border tensions have remained high this year due to a series of North Korean missile tests, nuclear threats and annual US-South Korean military exercises.
Pyongyang sees the joint drills as a rehearsal for invasion.
The Universiade, held every two years, is an international multi-sport event for university athletes and often serves as a stage for future Olympic stars.
More than 13,000 athletes and officials from 145 countries are expected to join this summer’s event.
North Korea boycotted the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Summer Olympics, both held in South Korea, but has since attended other events in the South.
It took part in the Asian Games hosted by the South Korean city of Incheon last year and took 11 gold medals, 11 silver and 14 bronze in its best Asian Games performance since 1990.