Cold War Ends On B-Ball Court

Actress Michelle Williams, center, sits with boyfriend Heath Ledger, right, at the Governor's Ball following the 78th Academy Awards on Sunday, March 5, 2006, in Hollywood. Man at left is unidentified.
AP Photo/Chris Carlson

Rivals South Korea and North Korea set their Cold War animosities aside for a few hours Tuesday when their athletes met on a basketball court for their first time in nine years.

The two games in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang marked the first non-governmental sports exchanges between the two countries. They are still technically at war because no peace treaty was signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

In 1990, their national soccer teams traveled to each other's capital for matches. In more of a political event, workers of the two Koreas played a series of soccer games in Pyongyang in August.

Tuesday's games were sponsored by South Korea's largest conglomerate, Hyundai, and North Korea's Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, a quasi-government body. They marked a new milestone in efforts to engage the isolated communist state and the latest effort by Hyundai to expand business and investment in the reclusive North.

The first basketball game was broadcast live in South Korea.

In what were dubbed "unification matches," Hyundai's men's and women's teams mixed their players with North Korean players.

Some 11,000 neatly clad North Korean spectators relentlessly clapped to lively brass band music as the mixed teams clashed.

In a game between two women's teams dubbed "solidarity" and "unity" the white-jersey solidarity team beat the green-jersey unity team 133-127. The unity team won the men's game 129-104.

Hyundai and North Korea will play two more games Wednesday without mixing their players.

Hyundai's founder, Chung Ju-yung, went to North Korea on Tuesday to watch the matches. During his three-day trip, the South Korean tycoon hoped to meet Kim Jong Il, the enigmatic North Korean leader, and explain a plan by Hyundai Motor Co. to build a car assembly plant in the North.

In its most significant gesture yet to North Korea, Washington earlier this month eased some of its economic sanctions. The sanctions had been in place since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung also has encouraged economic and other exchanges under his "sunshine" policy of engaging the North.

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