SEOUL (AFP) - United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon will become the first UN chief to set foot in North Korea for more than 20 years on Thursday when he visits the Kaesong joint industrial complex just over the border.
Ban formally confirmed his visit to the zone, which is jointly operated by the two Koreas, during a press conference Tuesday at the World Education Forum being held in the South Korean port of Incheon.
The last UN chief to go to North Korea was Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1993. The first secretary general to travel to Pyongyang was Kurt Waldheim in 1979.
Unlike Boutros-Ghali, who met the North’s then-leader Kim Il-Sung to discuss tensions over its nuclear ambitions, Ban is not expected to have any high-level talks during his brief visit to Kaesong.
Born out of the “sunshine” reconciliation policy initiated in the late 1990s by then-South Korean president Kim Dae-Jung, Kaesong was established in 2004 as a rare symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.
The zone lies some 10 kilometers over the border inside North Korea, and hosts around 120 South Korean firms which employ some 53,000 North Korean workers. “The Kaesong project is a win-win model for both Koreas,” the Yonhap news agency quoted Ban as telling the education forum press briefing.
“It symbolises a good way to tap the advantages of the Koreas in a complementary manner,” Ban said, adding that he planned to visit some of the South Korean companies and meet North Korean workers.
It will not be Ban’s first visit to Kaesong. He went there with a delegation of foreign diplomats in 2006 when he was South Korea’s foreign minister.
North and South Korea are currently mired in a dispute over wages at Kaesong, with Pyongyang insisting on unilaterally imposing a pay rise for its workers. Seoul insists that any wage change must be a joint decision.
Kaesong is a key earner for the cash-strapped North. The hard-currency wages are kept by the state, which passes on a fraction – in local currency – to the workers.