Women’s Peace Walk Activists Pledge to Cross Korean DMZ
PYONGYANG, North Korea -- International, Northern and Southern Korean women activists who plan to cross the Korean Demilitarized Zone said Wednesday they are determined to move forward with their walk, despite the announcement that United Nations authorities can't guarantee their safety if they walk from the North to the South at Panmunjom. Panmunjom is where the Korean War armistice agreement was signed, and it is critical to the delegates that the DMZ crossing take place at this symbolic site.
Officials in Pyongyang have informed organizer Christine Ahn, a Korean-American peace activist, that without a formal letter from Seoul approving a crossing at Panmunjom they may have to cross at another location. Ahn said the group has been advised to consider crossing from nearby Kaesong on a highway that is used mainly for civilian and commercial purposes.
"We have approval from both governments to cross the DMZ, but we don't know precisely where," Ahn told The Associated Press at the hotel in Pyongyang where she and the group are staying. "We have every intention of crossing at Panmunjom. However, it seems we are not able to get official responses. We want to cross at Panmunjom because it's been 62-plus years that we've allowed our government leaders to try to break the impasse and the stalemate. Sorry, you haven't succeeded," Ahn said. "We want to cross there. It has huge symbolic importance and we haven't come all this way to just cross where trucks carrying cargo cross. Panmunjom is why we have come."
The delegates are specifically calling upon Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the commanding officer of U.S. Forces, Korea and the U.N. Command, to step in and provide security assurances for Korean officials on both sides of the DMZ so that the crossing can go through Panmunjom.
"We appeal to Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti as head of the United Nations Command with jurisdiction over the Joint Security Area to cooperate with our request to cross at Panmunjom," said Gloria Steinem, an iconic figure in the international women's rights movement and one of the delegates currently in North Korea. "This Orwellian experience we are having is yet one more demonstration of how insane, and wasteful and cruel and outdated this boundary is."
Among the delegates are leaders of the American peace group CODEPINK, Medea Benjamin, Jodie Evans and Ann Wright. “For the last week we've been listening to the voices of the women of both North and South Korea, and this crossing is so important to them,” said Evans. “It’s clear that reconciliation isn’t happening and that the women must walk for peace. Why is the answer to this in the hands of the US military, calling the shots at the United Nations?”
The women’s peace walk has garnered wide international support, including endorsements from U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, co-founder of Twitter Evan Williams, actor Robert Redford, and physician Deepak Chopra.