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UN chief Ban Ki-moon to visit North Korea

After a rare diplomatic overture by Pyongyang, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due to visit North Korea this week. A previous visit planned earlier this year was cancelled at the last minute.

Quoting a United Nations source, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said Ban would visit the isolated north Asian country this week, without giving more details about the trip.

But the source said the UN secretary general would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the trip to Pyongyang, becoming the first head of the world body to set foot in the isolated state for more than 20 years.

"There can't be such a situation where the UN secretary general visits North Korea and does not meet with the supreme leader of the UN member state," the source told Yonhap, adding that the trip would likely provide significant momentum to resolve issues on the Korean Peninsula.

Ban, who is South Korean, had to cancel plans to visit North Korea in May after Pyongyang retracted its approval for the trip at the last minute without explanation.

Some analysts say the cancellation was seen as a response to comments Ban made in Seoul warning the North against raising tensions on the divided peninsula. The two countries

signed an accord last summer

to prevent a further escalation of animosity.

First UN visit since 1993

Two UN secretary generals have visited the Hermit Kingdom in the past - Kurt Waldheim in 1979 and, in 1993, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who met with then-leader Kim Il Sung to discuss tensions over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

But Ban has previously visited the North when he was South Korea's foreign minister. He crossed the border in 2006 to visit the joint industrial zone of Kaesong with a delegation of foreign diplomats.

During his tenure as foreign minister, he oversaw a period of intense multinational negotiations aimed at ending the North's nuclear program. Those talks led to a 2005 deal that later fell apart.

mm/cmk (AFP, Reuters)

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