SYDNEY, Australia - Athletes from North and South Korea will march together behind a unification flag during opening ceremonies at the Olympics - the first time the countries of the divided peninsula have joined together at the games.
International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch announced the agreement for the joint march Sunday night during a speech at the Sydney Opera House opening the IOC's annual meeting.
''It's a very important gesture to show to all the world the will of the two Koreas to be unified as soon as possible,'' Samaranch said at a news conference.
Samaranch said there would be 180 marchers in all, 90 from each country. The North Koreans were concerned their team, numbering around 50 athletes, would barely be noticed among the 400-strong South Korean team.
They will march behind one flag held by two athletes, one from the North and one from the South, Samaranch said, with uniform details still to be worked out between the two nations. The team name in the march will be simply Korea.
The athletes will wear the same uniforms for Friday's opening ceremony; during the games, however, they will compete as separate countries, with their own uniforms, flags and anthems, Olympic officials said.
Samaranch said that he personally brokered the deal during negotiations stretching over five days in Sydney, with the IOC's executive then approving it. After the announcement, he posed for photos standing between IOC members from the countries, Kim Un-yong from the South and Chang Ung from the North.
''We are the same blood,'' Chang said.
Kim said the flag depicted a map of the entire Korean peninsula and was used when the Koreas fielded joint teams at the World Table Tennis Championships in Chiba, Japan, 10 years ago and at the World Youth Soccer Championship in Lisbon in 1991.
''It's a very, very powerful symbol,'' IOC executive board member Anita DeFrantz of the United States said. ''I think it might bring a lot of people to tears on the 15th of September.''
''I think this is very good news for sport, for the Olympic family and also for the games of Sydney,'' Samaranch said.
Chang said the entire North Korean delegation totaled 70, and could not say how that would affect the number of people who marched.
The Koreas remain technically in a state of war because their three-year conflict in the early 1950s ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
South Korean ministers raised the Olympics issue with their counterparts during recent talks in Pyongyang, the capital of the communist North.
''It's not so complicated to march together,'' Kim said last week. ''There is no deadline. We will do everything to promote peace, dialogue and cooperation. We are willing to go to the last minute.''
Samaranch sent letters to the leaders of both countries before June's historic summit between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang.
Samaranch proposed that all Korean athletes march jointly under the Olympic flag, which would be followed by the flags of each country. South Korea quickly accepted the proposal.
The North Koreans said they didn't see the need for the two national flags because the countries' ultimate goal is unification.
In his speech to the ceremony, Samaranch also renewed his call for observance of an Olympic true during the games.
''Our dearest wish is to see children at school and on playing fields, not armed with machine guns on the front lines of wars or in refugee camps,'' he said.
Samaranch said the IOC was the first organization to recognize the dangers of doping when it created a medical commission in 1968, but acknowledged that the war had not yet been won.
''It's a difficult and complex struggle,'' he said. ''The outcome depends not only on tough measures ... but also on educational campaigns.''
Noting that nearly 40 percent of the athletes in Sydney will be women, he expressed regret at the lack of representation of women in the decision-making bodies of sports organizations. He reiterated the IOC's call for sports bodies to have women make up at least 10 percent of their ruling panels.
Samaranch also cited the importance of aborigines in the Australian culture and paid tribute to athletes from East Timor and Bosnia and Herzegovina.