Pyongyang trip for Ban is still not confirmed

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Pyongyang trip for Ban is still not confirmed

Amid speculation that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is planning a Pyongyang trip soon, a North Korean top diplomat in New York said that it was “natural” for the United Nations chief to visit member states.

At a press conference at the UN headquarters on Tuesday, however, North Korean Ambassador-at-large Ri Hung-sik did not confirm whether Ban will be visiting Pyongyang and meeting with leader Kim Jong-un, saying, “I know nothing.”

But he commented that “it is very natural, it is ordinary, for the UN secretary-general to visit its member states,” and if realized should improve relations between the UN and North Korea.

Ri said his government invited UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to Pyongyang for “technical cooperation.”

Zeid’s spokesman Andre-Michel Essoungou confirmed that discussions were underway to prepare for a possible visit by the high commissioner to engage the isolated regime in a “human rights dialogue.” He added that Zeid welcomed an invitation from North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong to visit the country in September, which would be a first by a UN human rights chief.

On Wednesday, Xinhua News Agency reported that Ban will be making a four-day trip to Pyongyang starting on Monday, citing as its source an official of the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Ban heads to Kuala Lumpur Saturday for the East Asia Summit on Sunday, fueling speculation that a Pyongyang trip might happen straight after the trip.

However, a UN spokesman said in response to the Xinhua report that the “story is wrong,” adding that the secretary general “will not be traveling to the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] next week.”

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that Ban will “be in New York most of next week” and then travel to Malta for the three-day Commonwealth Summit that kicks off Nov. 27. “From there, he will go directly to Paris to attend the 2015 COP21.” The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris kicks off on Nov. 30.

But again, Dujarric added in a statement that the UN chief has repeatedly said that he is willing to travel to North Korea to “play any constructive role” in an effort toward “peace, stability and dialogue on the Korean Peninsula.”

The South Korean government has not confirmed anything about a possible visit by the UN chief to Pyongyang.

In May, Pyongyang canceled at the last minute an invitation for Ban to visit the Kaesong Industrial Complex without explaining why.

Only two UN chiefs have visited North Korea, the last trip being in 1993 by Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Both ruling and opposition lawmakers of the South Korean National Assembly Wednesday welcomed a trip by Ban to Pyongyang following the reports.

Rep. Lee Jang-woo, ruling Saenuri Party spokesman, said in a statement, “We look forward to Secretary General Ban, through a visit to North Korea, playing a big role in denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and peace and stability in Northeast Asia.”

New Politics Alliance for Democracy spokeswoman Rep. Yoo Eun-hae said after the Xinhua report, “I hope the secretary general’s visit to North Korea can be an opportunity for inter-Korean exchange and to resolve the nuclear problem.”

Ri’s press conference came before a draft resolution on North Korea’s human right’s violations co-authored by Japan and the European Union will be put to a vote in a UN General Assembly committee on Thursday.

The North Korean envoy lambasted the draft resolution, a follow-up to the strongly-worded General Assembly resolution passed last year encouraging human rights violators to be referred to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

On Monday, Marzuki Darusman, the UN special rapporteur on North Korea’s human rights situation, will make a five-day visit to Seoul, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

He was a member of the Commission of Inquiry on the human rights situation in North Korea, which issued a groundbreaking report in February 2014 detailing heinous crimes perpetuated by the North Korean regime, which became the basis of the UN resolution adopted by the General Assembly.

His term expires in March.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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