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Women activists in North Korea for DMZ peace march

The organizers said they carried a rare message of peace across the 70-year divide.

By Elizabeth Shim
Women activists in North Korea for DMZ peace march
Ribbons made by students hoping for a peaceful reunion between North and South Korea hang under barbed wire near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Freedom Bridge, close to Seoul on January 29, 2013. On Sunday, 30 women activists will cross the DMZ from North Korea and travel to South Korea. UPI/Stephen Shaver | License Photo

SEOUL, May 19 (UPI) -- A group of 30 women activists, including feminist Gloria Steinem, arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday to begin a peace march across the Korean demilitarized zone.

The group has said they are committed to the march because they are seeking to "begin the process of replacing the Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty," according to Women Cross DMZ international coordinator Christine Ahn.

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North Korea's state-controlled media outlet KCNA confirmed the arrival of the women activists from 15 different countries, and mentioned the state's Committee for Solidarity with Peoples in the World held a welcome banquet for the guests at Pyongyang's Yanggakdo International Hotel.

The activists will take various tours of North Korea, and then walk across the forbidden DMZ on May 24. Yonhap reported the day is also the official International Women's Day for Disarmament, and a day that marks the 70th anniversary of a divided Korea.

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Prior to boarding a North Korean plane to Pyongyang, the activists held a press conference in Beijing, where they appealed to the U.N. Command presiding over the inter-Korea border to allow them to march through the truce village of Panmunjom.

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One of the activists, Leymah Gbowee, a 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate from Liberia, said the organizers carried a rare message of peace across the 70-year divide.

"I'm walking with our sisters from North and South Korea to change the dynamics of the Korean War, to bring the human dimension back into this, and not just the political side," she said.

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The women are scheduled to arrive on the South Korean side of the DMZ on May 24 -- where they are expected to be the guests of honor at a festival in Paju, South Korea.

The walk, however, has been the object of criticism from human rights advocates.

In April, Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Greg Scarlatoiu of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea said the peace walk across the 2.5-mile wide demilitarized zone is for North Korea an opportunity for the country to "cover up its death camps and crimes against humanity."

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