UN chief Ban says North Korea retracts approval for visit

UN chief Ban says North Korea retracts approval for visit
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attends the U.N. Academic Impact Seoul Forum in South Korea.

SEOUL - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday his plan to go to North Korea this week to visit an industrial complex had been scrapped after Pyongyang retracted its earlier approval, calling the decision "deeply regrettable".

The move by Pyongyang to abort Ban's visit to the Kaesong factory park on Thursday dashes what would have been a rare diplomatic opening by reclusive North Korea amid a tense standoff with South Korea. The park is just a few minutes' drive north of the heavily fortified border between the rival states.

"Early this morning, the authorities of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea informed us, through their diplomatic channels, that they were reversing their decision for me to visit the Kaesong industrial complex," Ban said in a speech, using North Korea's official name.

"No explanation was given for this last-minute change," he said at a conference in Seoul.

Ban is South Korean and served as foreign minister from 2004-06, a period of intense negotiations aimed at ending the North's nuclear programme. Those talks led to a 2005 deal that later fell apart.

North Korea's state media have not carried news of Ban's planned visit or the decision to withdraw the invitation.

On Tuesday, Ban announced the plan to visit the special economic zone run jointly by the North and the South that is the only ongoing vestige of co-operation borne from their first summit meeting 15 years ago.

Ban had said he hoped his visit, which had been set for Thursday, would help reopen dialogue between the two sides.

Ban was to be the third serving UN chief to go to the North and the first since Boutros Boutros-Ghali visited in 1993.

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