The move by Pyongyang to abort Ban’s visit to the Kaesong factory park on Thursday dashes what would have been a rare diplomatic opening by reclusive North Korea amid a tense standoff with South Korea. The park is just a few minutes’ drive north of the heavily fortified border between the rival states.

“Early this morning, the authorities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea informed us, through their diplomatic channels, that they were reversing their decision for me to visit the Kaesong industrial complex,” Ban said in a speech, using North Korea’s official name.

“No explanation was given for this last-minute change,” he said at a conference in Seoul. Ban is South Korean and served as foreign minister from 2004-06, a period of intense negotiations aimed at ending the North’s nuclear programme. Those talks led to a 2005 deal that later fell apart.

Ban was to be the third serving UN chief to go to the North and the first since Boutros Boutros-Ghali visited in 1993.

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