Seoul agrees to DMZ crossing

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Seoul agrees to DMZ crossing

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification on Friday agreed to allow prominent foreign female activists to cross the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas later this month.

A group of 30 female activists from around the world, including U.S. writer Gloria Steinem and Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire, plans to march from North to South Korea across the DMZ on May 24, which is International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament.

They plan to deliver a message of peace and a call for reunification of the Koreas.

The Unification Ministry advised the group, Women Cross DMZ, to use a western land route along the Gyeongui Line railway instead of walking through the truce village of Panmunjom.

“Because Panmunjom is a region that manages the armistice system, it is not a suitable route,” a Unification Ministry official said. “It is more appropriate to use the Gyeongui Line land route because there is already an agreement between North and South Korea on the procedure to use it.”

The procedure to cross the inter-Korean border through Panmunjom is a lot more complicated and requires permission by the United Nations Command.

However, a South Korean government official said, “Even if the Women Cross DMZ group decides to cross at Panmunjom, we will treat them the same as at the customs office at the Gyeongui Line.”

The Gyeongui line opened in 1906 and initially ran from Seoul to Sinuiju, in current North Korea, and Pyongyang. It was once connected to the Trans-Siberian Railway. Operation of the line between North and South Korea halted with the division of the peninsula in 1945. In the 21st century there have been efforts at inter-Korean summits to reconnect the railway.

In October 2007, former President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il held a summit in Pyongyang and agreed on a land route via the Gyeongui railway line.

The women’s group plans to hold international peace symposiums in Pyongyang and Seoul to provide a platform to share their experiences with Korean women and mobilize them to bring an end to the state of war in Korea. The Korean War (1950-1953) ended in an armistice agreement, so technically the war never ended.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported on May 2 that its Korean Committee for Solidarity with the World People formed a preparatory committee in Pyongyang to support the women’s march.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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