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The sad truth about North Korea's Olympic cheerleaders

Who are they and what do they want?

North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad was out in full force this weekend at the games, most visibly in the audience of a hockey game that featured the first-ever joint Korean team. And even as the team fell to Switzerland in an 8-0 sweep, the cheer squad stayed strong.

Its members are part of a 280-person Olympics delegation that also includes North Korean musicians and a tae kwon do team. But none have been getting the attention of the famous cheer squad, and not just because of their well-rehearsed cheers.

The group has actually made a number of public appearances since 2002. And their precision is no accident. According to defectors, its members are chosen using intense background checks and a very strict appearance criteria. Since many of them are members of well-connected families, analysts say they're also less likely to defect. One of the group's most famous members is Ri Sol-ju, who joined when she was 16 — and eventually became the wife of Kim Jong Un.

That said, 21 members were also reportedly sent to a prison camp for the crime of speaking about what they saw after a 2005 performance in South Korea.

In public, South Korean politicians are supporting the delegation, expressing hopes that the Olympics diplomacy will help strengthen ties between the two countries. But critics say the “army of beauties” is nothing more than an effort to hijack the games and spread propaganda.