South Koreans are banned from carrying North Korean flags into Asian Games venues and anyone waving one at an event could face arrest, games organisers said Tuesday (Sep 16).
Under South Korea's strict National Security Law, its citizens are banned from activities deemed to be praising or sympathising with the North. "We've been ordered to check at security screening if anyone is carrying North Korean flags into a venue, and confiscate them immediately," said an organising committee spokesman.
North Korea's presence has been one of the main talking points in the build-up to the Asian Games, which officially open in the South Korean port city of Incheon on Friday. Organisers have removed all national flags from venue neighbourhoods after anti-Pyongyang activists protested about having the North Korean emblem flying among them.
The North Korean flag is displayed along with other national flags at the official venues, and North Korean delegation members can bring their flags to events. But any South Korean who smuggles a flag into a venue and waves it with a "strong, clear intention" will be handed over to law enforcement, the spokesman said.
Non-South Korean nationals would also be "strongly urged" not to carry North Korean flags to the events. Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) rules dictate that national flags should be "freely flown" in all stadiums and the areas nearby. "Our decision may be against the OCA rule technically, but you can't completely rule out the political situation and public mentality in South Korea," the spokesman said.
South and North Korea technically remain at war because the 1950-53 Korean conflict was concluded with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty. The North's participation in the Incheon Asiad was only confirmed after months of tortuous, heated negotiations that coincided with a spike in military tension on the peninsula. In the end it decided to send a 273-member delegation of athletes, coaches and officials.
On Monday, a number of North Korean delegates waved the national colours as their men beat China 3-0 in the football competition, which is already underway. Many South Korean spectators cheered on the North, but waved "unification flags" which are tolerated by the Seoul authorities.
The flag - a blue silhouette of the Korean peninsula against a white background - was first used in 1991 when the two countries competed as a single team in the World Table Tennis Championships. The two Koreas also marched together at opening ceremonies for the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, the 2006 Winter Olympics and the 2006 Asian Games in Doha.