Salvatore Di Nolfi / AP

Report: Ban Ki-moon to visit North Korea

South Korean news report says UN chief will visit Pyongyang this week for meeting with Kim Jong Un

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will visit Pyongyang this week for a possible meeting with leader Kim Jong Un, a South Korean news report said.

Ban would be the first U.N. head to visit North Korea since Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1993.

The possible trip comes six months after Pyongyang at the last minute canceled an invitation for Ban to visit an inter-Korean factory park in the North Korean city of Kaesong. Ban has said North Korea gave no reason for the cancellation. He had not planned to visit Pyongyang at that time.

Yonhap news agency cited an unidentified source in the U.N. when it reported Sunday about Ban's Pyongyang trip. It gave no details on the purpose of the trip or the day it would take place.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric and Seoul's Unification Ministry said they had no comment.

Since taking over the leadership following the death of his father Kim Jong Il in 2011, Kim has yet to receive a single head of state and has not traveled outside the country.

The young leader has received a number of high-ranking Chinese officials in Pyongyang, but the most prominent foreigner he has met in the past four years is probably the former NBA basketball star, Dennis Rodman.

Yonhap, quoting another unidentified U.N. source, said Ban is expected to meet Kim because it's unlikely for the secretary-general to visit a U.N. member state without meeting the country's leader.

That source was quoted as saying Ban's trip could serve as a breakthrough in both the standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons program and the strained ties between the two Koreas. Ban was South Korea's foreign minister before taking up the top U.N. job.

Ban had said before his canceled Kaesong park trip that he hoped his visit would help improve ties between the Koreas. Analysts in Seoul said at the time that Pyongyang may have scrapped the trip because it felt Ban would back only the views of Washington and Seoul.

International nuclear disarmament talks have remained stalled since early 2009, and experts believe North Korea has since built a small and growing atomic bomb arsenal and advanced its missile program. Hundreds of thousands of combat troops from the two Koreas have faced each other along the world's most heavily fortified border since their war in the early 1950s ended with an armistice, and not a peace treaty.

North Korea is already under a raft of U.N. sanctions imposed after its three nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

It has also come under increasing pressure on the human rights front, following a report published last year by a U.N. commission that concluded North Korea was committing human rights violations "without parallel in the contemporary world.”

It will not be Ban's first visit to the North. He crossed the border to visit the joint industrial zone of Kaesong with a delegation of foreign diplomats in 2006 when he was South Korea's foreign minister.

Wire services

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