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North Korea abruptly cancels visit by UN chief Ban Ki-moon

North Korea has unexpectedly withdrawn an invitation for UN chief Ban Ki-moon to visit a major cooperation project between the two Koreas. The abrupt cancellation came a day after Ban said he would travel to Kaesong.

North Korea's cancellation of the visit to an industrialized zone close to its border with the South was described as "highly regrettable" by the UN secretary-general.

Ban said Pyongyang had rescinded its invitation for him to visit the Kaesong zone, an important source of revenue for the North, without any official reason being given.

The decision came after Ban earlier in the week had called for the North to refrain from any actions that might lead to greater military tensions on the peninsula. That appeal came after North Korea last week claimed to have

successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile

in an operation personally witnessed by leader Kim Jong Un.

"No explanation was given for this last-minute change," said Ban, a former foreign minister of South Korea, while attending a forum in Seoul. "This decision by Pyongyang is deeply regrettable."

'Turn away from isolation'

Seoul's Unification Ministry also expressed its "regret" over the reversal. "The government again urges North Korea to turn away from the path for isolation and to grasp the hands reached out by the United Nations and international community for dialogue and reconciliation," ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-Cheol told reporters.

The intended visit would have been the first by a UN chief to the isolated communist country in more than 20 years, with the last visit having been Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1993.

The Kaesong zone hosts around 120 South Korean firms, employing some 53,000 North Korean workers.

rc/sms (AFP, dpa)

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