North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister has landed in South Korea ahead of the Olympics.
Kim Yo Jong is the first member of Pyongyang’s ruling dynasty to set foot in its rival since the Korean War.
Yo Jong was also part of a high-level diplomatic delegation led by the North’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam — its highest-level official ever to go to the South — as the Winter Olympics trigger a diplomatic rapprochement between the rivals.
Their white Ilyushin-62 jet, marked in Korean script “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, the North’s official name, and its tailfin emblazoned with a Northern emblem, touched down at Incheon airport near Seoul.
The last member of the Kim family to set foot in Seoul was Yo Jong’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, the North’s founder, after his forces invaded in 1950 and the capital fell.
Three years later the conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula divided by the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone, and the two sides technically in a state of war.
Now the North is subject to multiple rounds of UN Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, while the democratic South has risen to become the world’s 11th-largest economy.
Kim Yong Nam and Kim Yo Jong, both of them in dark coats with fur collars, were met by the South’s unification minister and other officials, exchanging pleasantries about the cold weather.
The leader’s sister looked relaxed, smiling calmly as she talked with them, before making her way through the terminal, with four bodyguards surrounding her closely, to take a high-speed train to the Winter Olympics host Pyeongchang.
The delegation’s trip is the diplomatic high point of a Games-driven rapprochement between the two Koreas, with dovish South Korean President Moon Jae-in pushing a “peace Olympics” that will open a door for dialogue to alleviate tensions and seek to persuade Pyongyang to give up its atomic ambitions.
Kim Yong Nam was due to attend a leaders’ reception on Friday ahead of the Olympics opening ceremony along with US Vice President Mike Pence and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, both of whose countries the North regularly threatens.
And Moon is scheduled to have lunch with the Pyongyang delegation on Saturday.
But all eyes are on Yo Jong — a key member of the Kim dynasty that has ruled the impoverished, isolated nation with an iron fist and pervasive personality cult over three generations.
The family are revered in the North as the “Paektu bloodline”, named after the country’s highest mountain and supposed birthplace of the late leader Kim Jong Il.
Many analysts suggest Yo Jong may be carrying a personal message to Moon from her brother.