North Korea’s Top Lawmaker Choe to Visit U.K., KCNA Reports

North Korea’s top legislator departed the capital, Pyongyang, for a visit to the U.K., state-owned Korean Central News Agency reported.

Choe Thae Bok, chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly and a confidant of leader Kim Jong Il, heads a group of North Korean officials making the trip, KCNA said March 26 without giving details.

The British-North Korea All-Party Parliamentary Group invited Choe after a U.K. delegation led by Lord David Alton visited Pyongyang last year, Radio Free Asia reported earlier this month.

Choe arrived for a stopover in Beijing, where he may be preparing for a visit to China by Kim Jong Il’s son and heir Kim Jong Un, South Korea’s SBS television reported late March 26, citing an unidentified official.

“North Korea seems to be expanding its scope of diplomacy with wider exchanges with European nations,” said Kim Yong Hyun, professor of North Korean Studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. “It wants to prove North Korea is a member of international society and to build a favorable atmosphere for obtaining food aid.”

A telephone call to the British embassy in Seoul yesterday outside working hours was connected to an automated answering system. South Korea’s Unification Ministry has no comment on Choe’s visit, spokeswoman Lee Jong Joo said by phone in Seoul.

British Ambassador to South Korea Martin Uden wrote about his March 11-14 trip to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on his embassy’s website.

“As opportunity offers, we can also find other ways to ensure that a true picture of the outside world is seen in Pyongyang,” reads Uden’s posting made on March 24. “That might be the ‘Bend it like Beckham’ film we got shown at Christmas on DPRK TV. Or it could be bringing DPRK officials to London when we can and where appropriate.”

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