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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit North Korea, according to source

By Elizabeth Shim
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit North Korea, according to source
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon plans to visit North Korea this week, an unidentified U.N. official told South Korea press. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- A United Nations official said the U.N. secretary-general plans to visit North Korea this week, but neither Pyongyang nor Seoul has confirmed the report.

A high-ranking U.N. official who spoke to Yonhap on the condition of anonymity said Ban Ki-moon is to visit Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, which increases the likelihood the secretary-general could meet with leader Kim Jong Un.

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In May, North Korea invited Ban to visit the jointly operated factory park in Kaesong but rescinded the invitation at the last minute.

Pyongyang has not issued any announcements about a Ban visit, and on Monday Seoul's Unification Ministry said it could not confirm the report. Kim Kyu-hyun, senior secretary for foreign affairs and national security to President Park Geun-hye, said that this was the first time he has heard of the report and that he had "no idea," South Korean television network JTBC reported.

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Seoul's Unification Ministry, however, did not deny the report of Ban's visit. Jeong Joon-hee, the ministry's spokesman, said any announcement would be made public at the U.N.

In May, Ban had said that, "only dialogue can solve the problems of the Korean peninsula," but Yonhap reported North Korea could be granting Ban permission to visit in order make a show of the regime's stability.

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Sources in North Korea have said even high-ranking officials are vulnerable to ongoing shake-ups that have led to the purge of former Defense Minister Hyon Yong Chol and the disappearance of Workers' Party Secretary Choe Ryong Hae. Pyongyang also could use Ban's visit as "proof" of its diplomatic achievements to North Koreans, ahead of a congress of the Workers' Party in May.

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In Beijing, China's government is paying close attention to updates on the Ban announcement because the U.N. official's visit could open the path to reopening the six-party talks on North Korea denuclearization, according to a China analyst who spoke to Yonhap on the condition of anonymity.

North Korea has taken a less hostile approach to relations with the outside world since August, and China and North Korea have been increasing economic cooperation since Liu Yunshan, Beijing's fifth-ranked official, visited Pyongyang on Oct. 10. North Korea also has requested a peace treaty from the United States while foregoing missile tests in October.

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