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UN chief to visit inter-Korean factory park in North Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that he will visit an inter-Korean factory park just north of the two Koreas’ heavily fortified border, saying he hopes his trip to the last major cooperation project between the rivals helps improve ties.

Ban would be the first U.N. chief to visit the factory park, which opened in 2004 in the town of Kaesong. He would also be the first head of the U.N. to visit North Korea since Boutros Boutros-Ghali traveled there in 1993.

Ban’s trip, set for Thursday, comes as relations between the Koreas remain strained following the North’s continuation of missile and other weapons tests that South Korea views as provocation. 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 with an anti-aircraft gun in late April.

Ban told reporters Tuesday during his trip to South Korea that he would spare no efforts in trying to help improve ties between the Koreas.

“The Kaesong project is a win-win model for both Koreas. It symbolizes a good aim to tap the advantage of South and North Korea in a complementary manner,” said Ban, who visited the factory park in 2006, when he was South Korea’s foreign minister. “I hope my visit will provide positive impetus to further develop it and expand to other areas.”

Ban said that he will visit factories and meet North Korean workers, but that it was not determined which North Korean officials he would meet.

Analyst Chang Yong Seok at Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies said he was skeptical about whether Ban’s trip can bring any major breakthrough in ties between the rivals.

Chang said North Korea accepted Ban’s Kaesong complex visit because it could be helpful in its push to lure foreign investment and revive its troubled economy. But, he said, “North Korea won’t welcome Ban coming to Pyongyang with talks on its nuclear program.”

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’s future has been put into doubt again recently, with the two Koreas wrangling over Pyongyang’s push to raise the wages for North Koreans employed by South Korean companies there without consulations with South Korea.

The complex is a rare, legitimate source of foreign currency for the impoverished North. Pyongyang has chafed at such views.

The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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Associated Press videojournalist Chang Yong-jun in Incheon, South Korea, contributed to this report.

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