04 July 2008
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is downplaying speculation in the media he may be headed to North Korea for a short visit. Speaking
Speaking at a Seoul press conference Friday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said North Korea is not on his itinerary on this Asia trip.
Ban said he has expressed a willingness, in principle, to travel to the North but that no concrete plans had been made.
Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, arrived here Thursday for his first visit home since taking the top job at the U.N. more than a year ago.
Ban said he is concerned about human rights in the North.
"North Korea should also take necessary measures to improve the human rights situation ... there are still many areas in the world whose human rights are not properly protected and promoted, and even abused. This is a very undesirable and unacceptable situation."
Earlier in the day, Ban told South Korean lawmakers he feels "ashamed" at the relatively low amount of aid and peacekeeping personnel South Korea contributes to U.N. operations.
A U.S.-led United Nations coalition repelled North Korean and Chinese forces to the current North-South border after North Korea invaded the South in 1950. The United Nations is still active in monitoring the armistice along that border.
Still, Ban says South Korea is at the bottom among rich nations in providing funds for less developed countries, and calls upon the South to "repay its debt" to the international community.
As a South Korean, Ban said he follows with interest news of almost nightly street protests in Seoul. Tens of thousands of South Koreans have gathered for about two months, partly to protest a deal to resume U.S. beef imports, but also to vent a much wider range of criticisms against the government.
Ban urged the two sides to come to an understanding.
Ban says he feels it is very important for the government to guarantee public safety - an indirect reference to public concerns U.S. beef may carry a health risk. At the same time, Ban says, it is important for the people to respect and uphold the policies of the government.