(AA) – North Korea has cancelled a trip by the U.N. secretary-general to the reclusive state, according to Ban Ki-moon himself on Wednesday.
Ban’s announcement came just a day after he revealed his plan to visit the inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong this Thursday.
“Early this morning, North Korea suddenly informed us through a diplomatic channel that they are calling off the North Korean authorities’ permission for my visit to the Kaesong Industrial Complex,” Ban said as he addressed a digital forum in his home country of South Korea.
He insisted that Pyongyang offered no explanation, and he described the decision as “very regrettable” – as more than two decades have passed since a U.N. chief last visited North Korea.
It had been hoped that Ban’s trip to Kaesong would ease a wage dispute at the complex, where 124 South Korean firms hire around 53,000 North Korean workers.
Seoul ordered the companies not to issue paychecks for March, arguing that Pyongyang had broken an agreement by unilaterally hiking its workers’ wages by 5.18 percent.
Still, dozens of firms did pay out, and the deadline for paying April’s wages is approaching next week – with North Korea’s Uriminzokkiri website accusing the South on Wednesday of trying to “destroy the Kaesong project.”
The complex was established as a symbol of cooperation in 2004, decades after the close of the Korean War in 1953.
Responding to the news of Ban’s cancelled trip to Kaesong, a spokesperson for South Korea’s unification ministry urged the North to come forward to “accept the global community’s offer for dialogue and cooperation.”
Following a recent spike in inter-Korean tensions over military drills held by both sides and Pyongyang’s missile tests, Ban also vowed not to “spare any effort to urge North Korea to cooperate with the international community for the Korean Peninsula and for peace and stability.”