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Nobel Laureates to Embark on Rare Mission to North Korea


FILE - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) visits the Kim Il Sung University in March 2014. Nobel Prize winners will visit the North's top universities to give speeches and hold workshops in May 2016.

FILE - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) visits the Kim Il Sung University in March 2014. Nobel Prize winners will visit the North's top universities to give speeches and hold workshops in May 2016.

A group of Nobel laureates plans to visit North Korea later this month for rare academic exchanges amid heightened tensions over the country's nuclear development.

The International Peace Foundation, a Vienna-based private organization that promotes peace through science, plans to hold a weeklong program of events to engage the North in what the group calls "silent diplomacy." Through the program, Nobel Prize winners will visit the North's top universities to give speeches and hold workshops. The program, dubbed "Bridges — Dialogue Towards a Culture of Peace," will be held May 2 to 6 in Pyongyang.

"Silent diplomacy"

The main keynote events will be held at Kim Il Sung University, the North's major university, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary. The delegation also will hold workshops, seminars and dialogues with students and scholars from various educational institutions at Kim Chaek University of Technology and the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

This will mark the first time the group has hosted the program inside North Korea.

Finn Kydland from Norway

Finn Kydland from Norway

The three laureates attending this year are Finn Kydland from Norway, Aaron Ciechanover from Israel, and Richard Roberts from Britain. They won their Nobels for economics, chemistry and medicine, respectively.

The events are aimed at inspiring North Korea's "young generation" and strengthening "international understanding by building long-term bridges" between the visiting scholars and local universities, according to a statement released by the group last week.

"We believe in dialogue, exchange and education as a basis for peace so we are not undermining international sanctions, but hope that the event can be used as a tool for silent diplomacy," Uwe Morawetz, the group's founding chairman, who has visited the North six times to prepare for the upcoming visit, told VOA.

Nuclear standoff deepening

The visit comes as a Cold War-style standoff is deepening between North Korea and the international community following Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test in January.

FILE - A sales assistant in Seoul, South Korea, watches TV sets broadcasting a news report on North Korea's nuclear test, Jan. 6, 2016.

FILE - A sales assistant in Seoul, South Korea, watches TV sets broadcasting a news report on North Korea's nuclear test, Jan. 6, 2016.

Despite increased sanctions against the country, Pyongyang has continued with a series of provocations. Over the weekend, Pyongyang fired a submarine launched ballistic missile, prompting the U.N. Security Council to issue a press statement condemning the move.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Thursday said North Korea has almost completed preparations for its fifth nuclear test.

South Korean concerns

Shortly after the visit was announced, South Korea raised concerns with the group that its trip could be used as a political tool for Pyongyang. Morawetz said his group will proceed with the visit despite the risk.

"We listened to their concerns. We take them seriously. But we cannot postpone or cancel our visit," Morawetz said.

"We will not engage in any political activities. If we have the feeling it is misused in any way, then there might be a possibility that we may not continue with the visit while there," he added.

IPF has been holding a series of "Bridges" events since 2003, touring Asian countries. Forty-eight Nobel laureates — as well as high-profile speakers and artists such as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Hans Blix and Jackie Chan — have participated in this series of events, according to the group.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA Korean Service.

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