July 21, 2008

US Human Rights Envoy Cancels North Korea Trip

Text of report in English by South Korean news agency Yonhap

[By Shim Sun-ah]

Seoul, July 21 (Yonhap) - Jay Lefkowitz, the US special envoy on North Korean human rights, has called off his planned trip to an inter-Korean industrial complex in North Korea this week, the South Korean Unification Ministry said Monday.

"We heard Lefkowitz voluntarily cancelled his plan to visit Kaesong [Kaeso'ng] industrial zone," said Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the ministry.

Lefkowitz sought permission from the US embassy in Seoul last week to visit Kaesong [Kaeso'ng] during his planned trip to South Korea from Tuesday to Thursday, Kim said. The cancellation was made before he got final approval from North Korea for the visit, he added.

North Korea's killing of a female South Korean tourist who allegedly crossed into a restricted military zone in the communist state on July 11 has further strained political tension between the two Koreas. Seoul suspended tours to the North's Mount Geumgang [Ku'mgang] where the shooting incident took place.

Another government official, requesting anonymity, said that the envoy may again seek to visit the North after the US President George W. Bush visits South Korea next month.

Lefkowitz has been a harsh critic of North Korea's human rights abuses, raising questions over wages and working conditions of the North Korean workers in the complex and arguing that the multinational talks on denuclearizing the communist country ought to address the issue of the North's human rights as well.

He previously planned to visit the Kaesong [Kaeso'ng] complex in July 2006 but cancelled the trip after Pyongyang conducted missile tests.

Seventy-two South Korean labour-intensive manufacturers are operating in the industrial zone, located just north of the inter- Korean border, to benefit from low-wage North Korean workers, whose number exceeded 30,000 early this month.

Originally published by Yonhap news agency, Seoul, in English 0815 21 Jul 08.

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