AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
SEOUL: South Korea is expected to give former US President Jimmy Carter rare approval to fly directly to Seoul after visiting the North Korean capital Pyongyang next week, a report said Thursday.
"President Carter has informed us that he wants to fly directly to Seoul" from Pyongyang by private jet instead of detouring via Beijing as normal, Yonhap news agency quoted an unidentified Seoul government official as saying.
"I think the government will find it difficult to reject the request," the official said.
There are no commercial air services across the heavily fortified inter-Korean border, but diplomats or others have occasionally taken direct private or military flights.
The Carter Center run by the ex-president has not confirmed dates but widespread media reports have said he will pay a three-day trip to Pyongyang starting April 26.
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Seoul's foreign ministry confirmed Carter hopes to stop in Seoul on his way home but did not comment on flight details.
"From what we understand, he will visit South Korea unless there is a special reason not to do so," said spokesman Cho Byung-Jae, adding details of the Seoul schedule have not been finalised.
News reports have said Carter will be accompanied by three other ex-world leaders -- former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, ex-Irish president Mary Robinson and ex-Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland.
They are all members of a group known as The Elders, which has said it is considering a regional visit to ease Korean tensions but given no details.
Cho said a ministry official met last month with officials from The Elders and briefed them about the situation on the peninsula.
Carter has mediated in North Korea before. In 1994 he visited Pyongyang after the United States came close to war with North Korea over its nuclear weapons programme.
Last August the 2002 Nobel peace prizewinner visited Pyongyang to secure the release of jailed US citizen Aijalon Mahli Gomes.
Carter has said he would try to revive stalled six-party talks on the North's nuclear disarmament and address humanitarian woes during his latest visit. It is not known whether he will meet leader Kim Jong-Il.
United Nations food agencies who recently visited the North say more than six million people -- a quarter of the population -- urgently need food aid.
Some analysts believe Carter will also secure the freedom of a Korean-American detained by the North since last November and facing trial for unspecified crimes against the nation.
A source has said the man was involved in missionary work.
Carter's delegation may request a meeting with the South's President Lee Myung-Bak but it has not been confirmed, Yonhap said. A presidential spokesman said he had no information.