SEOUL, South Korea – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday that North Korea had withdrawn an invitation to visit a factory park in the country, a day after he announced he would travel to the last major cooperation project between the rival Koreas.
Ban said Wednesday he wanted to go the Kaesong industrial park just north of the heavily fortified Korean border on Thursday as part of an effort to help improve ties between North and South Korea, which jointly run the park.
He would have been the first U.N. chief to visit the factory park, which opened in 2004 in the city of Kaesong. He would also have been the first head of the U.N. to visit North Korea since Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1993.
Ban told a forum on Wednesday that North gave no reason when it informed the U.N. of its decision to cancel his trip.
"This decision by Pyongyang is deeply regrettable," Ban said, adding he will spare no effort to encourage the North to work with the international community for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and beyond.
Ban's cancelled trip comes as relations between the Koreas remain strained following the North's continuation of missile and other weapon tests that South Korea views as provocations. There are also worries about North Korea after South Korea's spy agency said last week that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had his defense chief executed by anti-aircraft gun fire in late April.
Analysts had said Ban's trip won't likely bring any major breakthrough in ties between the two Koreas.
The park opened during a period of warming ties between the Koreas and has been considered a test case for unification, pairing cheap local labor with South Korean know-how and technology.
It has survived periods of animosity, including the North's artillery bombardment of a South Korean island in 2010, while other cross-border projects, such as tours to a scenic North Korean mountain, remain deadlocked.
In 2013, however, the park's operations were halted for five months after North Korea withdrew its 53,000 workers amid tension over the North's torrent of threats to launch nuclear attacks on Seoul and Washington.
The complex is a rare, legitimate source of foreign currency for the impoverished North.
The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.