SEOUL: North Korea has boycotted next month’s World University Games in South Korea in protest at the opening of a UN office in Seoul monitoring Pyongyang’s human rights record, organizers said on Monday.
North Korea had offered to send 75 athletes and 33 officials to the games, also known as the Universiade, scheduled from July 3 to 14 in the South’s southern city of Gwangju.
But the North last Friday emailed the Gwangju Universiade organizing committee saying it was pulling out, officials said.
“North Korea’s email cited political reasons such as the opening of the UN office in Seoul this week” and high cross-border tensions, a committee official told Agence France-Presse.
Gwangju mayor Yoon Jang-Hyun, president of the organizing committee, expressed regret and urged Pyongyang to change its mind, according to Yonhap news agency.
“With an open mind, we will wait until the last minute for North Korea to participate,” he was quoted as saying.
Pyongyang has threatened “merciless punishment” against South Korea several times if it went through with the opening of the UN office, planned for Tuesday.
The United Nations has proposed opening the field office following a searing report by a UN commission that concluded North Korea 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 organizers held out hope North Korea would still take part in the event.
“We don’t regard the email as North Korea’s final decision because the FISU has yet to receive the same email from Pyongyang,” the committee official said, 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.
Cross-border tensions have remained high this year due to a series of North Korean ballistic missile tests, nuclear threats and annual US-South Korean military exercises.
Pyongyang sees the joint drills, most recently carried out in March and April, 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 several other events in the South.
The North 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.