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Korean teams to unify for Beijing Olympics

MACAU — North and South Korea have agreed in principle to form a unified team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and next year's Asian Games, and now all that remains is to work out the details.

The nations issued a joint, three-paragraph statement Tuesday declaring their intention to field one team. The statement followed a three-hour meeting between North and South Korean Olympic officials in the Chinese territory of Macau, where their teams were competing in the East Asian Games.

Kim Sang-woo, secretary general of the Korean Olympic Committee said there was a spirit of cooperation.

"The atmosphere and the building in confidence and trust have been taken to a significant level, and that is why the North feels it can trust the South to provide a very fair and acceptable agreement, which is the same case for South Korea as well," South Korean Kim said.

The two sides have long talked about combining sports forces, but their statement marked a formal step toward that goal. Neither side signed Tuesday's document, however, and previous talk about merging the teams faded amid deep mutual distrust.

But Kim said there was optimism that merging the teams would be possible because of a thawing in relations since North Korean leader Kim Jong Il met former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in an unprecedented summit in 2000.

Kim said the two sides agreed to meet Dec. 7 in the North's border city of Kaesong to talk about selection and training of athletes. Each side will be represented by a vice chairman of its national Olympic committee.

North Korea initiated Tuesday's meeting, Kim said.

The two sides previously discussed combining their teams for the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, and the Beijing Games during a meeting in September in the Chinese city of Guangzhou.

Athletes from the two Koreas marched together at the opening ceremonies of the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and at the 2002 Asian Games but competed separately. The Koreas have been divided since 1945 and fought a three-year war in the 1950s.