Lawmakers call for U.N. chief's visit to N. Korea to ease crisis

With inter-Korean tensions mounting, several lawmakers here have urged the government to dispatch a special envoy to North Korea to seek a breakthrough, calling United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "a desirable candidate."

Rep. Moon Hee-sang, the interim leader of the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP), who has long proposed sending an envoy to the North, said Tuesday that Ban "is a good card" as an envoy to the North to open a channel for dialogue.

DUP lawmaker Park Byeog-seug also called on the Seoul government a day earlier to "consider sending the U.N. chief to North Korea after consultations with the United States and China."

The idea is shared by some lawmakers of the ruling Saenuri Party, with Rep. Kim Young-woo siding with Rep. Park, and Rep. Lee Cheol-woo calling for "the arbitration role by a third party, particularly by the U.N."

The idea of sending the U.N. chief in a mediating position came as an alternative, after the South Korean government stood against the proposal of taking the initiative of sending an envoy to the communist country.

During the National Assembly meeting on Monday, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said dispatching an envoy "at this juncture is not expected to bring about meaningful results," but stated that the role played by the U.N. chief "deserves consideration."

"Ban's visit to the North would allow the communist country to find a kind of exit strategy in a relatively easy fashion," said an official at Seoul's foreign ministry, requesting anonymity.

"But I'd like to guard against high expectations, as the U.N. is the very entity that levied sanctions on Pyongyang to punish (the country for) its provocations," he added.

North Korea faced fresh U.N. sanctions in March that condemned the unruly country's third nuclear test in Feb. 12. Since then, Pyongyang has made near-daily threats of war, heightening tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

No discussions about Ban's visit to the North or sending other officials to the communist country were made in earnest, according to diplomatic sources here, but some say it would not be "a tall order" for Ban to make the trip as he has expressed his willingness to fly to the North.

In March, the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business said Ban had stated that he would consider visiting the joint inter-Korean industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.

During his National Assembly speech in Seoul last October, Ban also stressed that he is "ready to play every role required to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula," including visiting the North "as soon as conditions are met."