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Ban to visit Gaeseong on Thursday

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday that he will visit the North Korean border town of Gaeseong on Thursday to encourage North Korean workers there in a surprise announcement that came amid growing uncertainty over inter-Korean ties.

“I would like to announce that I will visit Gaeseong Industrial Complex on May 21. I believe it is a win-win model for both Koreas,” he said at a news conference held at the World Education Forum in the South Korean western port city of Incheon.

Ban visited the inter-Korean joint venture town in 2006 as the South Korean foreign minister. But it will be his first visit to the North Korean town since he became the U.N. chief in 2007. He is also the first U.N. secretary-general to visit the North Korean territory in 22 years, he explained.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. (Yonhap)
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. (Yonhap)

Ban also stressed that he would bring a message of peace, adding that peace and security on the Korean Peninsula are his top priorities.

“I believe in the power of dialogue. More parties will benefit from renewed engagement and commitment of general dialogue. I reiterate my willingness to contributing to improve the inter-Korean relationship.”

Asked of whom he would meet in the North, Ban said he would dispatch a group of U.N. officials on Wednesday to Gaeseong to coordinate his schedule there. He will be crossing the border through the Dorasan Inter-Korean Transit Office in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, officials said. The visit was arranged solely on the request of the U.N. chief and he also intends to make a more full-scale North Korean visit that goes beyond Gaeseong, they added.

The announcement came hours after Ban expressed his desire to visit the North while delivering a speech in the morning.

The U.N. chief said he wants to visit the North at an appropriate time to bolster regional peace and stability and to bring the reclusive regime back to multilateral talks on its nuclear disarmament.

“I have consistently expressed my readiness to visit Pyongyang if my visit is helpful ... through close coordination with the concerned parties,” he said in a keynote speech at the sixth Asian Leadership Conference held in Seoul. Ban arrived in Seoul on Monday for a five-day stay.

Stressing his role as the U.N. chief, Ban said he could deliver a helping hand to North Korea at any time, to help the isolated country build trust in the international community, establish rule of law and improve human rights conditions.

Ban also said that he has been paying keen attention to security issues on the Korean Peninsula as Pyongyang’s attempts to expand its nuclear programs pose a great threat to regional stability.

Urging the North to make efforts to denuclearize, Ban warned that Pyongyang’s nuclear ambition would only intensify a regional arms race.

The U.N. chief urged North Korea to step forward to resume the stalled six-party talks, describing the role of the multilateral negotiation platform as crucial to resolving Pyongyang’s nuclear standoff.

Ban also expressed his hope to meet North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong again at the U.N. General Assembly this year. Ban and Ri met last year in New York as the North dispatched its officials for first time in 15 years to the international conference. The North Korean representative told Ban that he would keep communication channels open with the U.N.

Ban also called for international support for hungry children in North Korea, urging leaders to separate the humanitarian issue from political and security issues.

On historic and territorial disputes in East Asia, Ban urged Japanese leaders to take a “forward-looking” thinking to mend ties with neighboring nations.

Ban was visiting his home country for the first time in two years to attend international conferences including the World Education Forum that kicked off Tuesday. He departs Friday.

By Cho Chung-un (