Seoul leans toward allowing group of women to cross DMZ

AP News
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Posted: Apr 22, 2015 3:23 AM

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea said Wednesday that it will likely support a proposed walk across the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas by prominent women including Gloria Steinem in what is planned as a call for the reunification of the two countries.

The government plans to approve the planned walk next month if it confirms North Korea's official support for the event, said Lim Byeong Cheol, a spokesman for the Unification Ministry, which handles affairs related to North Korea.

Organizers of the effort called WomenCrossDMZ.org said earlier that they had received permission from Pyongyang. The South Korean government has yet to confirm whether North Korea sent an official invitation to the women or expressed its support for the event to the U.N. Command at the DMZ. Organizers plan to have 30 women cross from North Korea to South Korea on May 24, which is the International Women's Day for Disarmament.

A spokesman from the U.N. Command, who didn't want to be named citing official rules, said it usually approves civilian crossings when they are supported by both Koreas. Five New Zealanders crossed the DMZ with motorbikes in 2013 and a group of 32 Korean-Russians crossed the zone by motorcade last year after gaining permission from both sides.

Nobel peace laureates Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, who were credited for their work to help end long-running conflicts in their countries, are among the women planning to join Steinem, an influential writer and gender-equality activist, in crossing the DMZ at the village of Panmunjom, which straddles the border.

Although organizers promote the walk as a gesture for peace, some critics in the U.S. have accused some of the participants for having allegedly soft views on North Korea's oppressive regime and ugly human rights record, and questioned whether the march would serve in favor of Pyongyang's propaganda efforts. A spokesman from the Korea Freedom Federation, South Korea's largest conservative civic group, said it has yet to determine its stance on the walk.

The DMZ is considered the world's most fortified border, separating the two Koreas still technically at war. The walk would mark the 70th anniversary of the division of the Korean Peninsula at the end of World War II.