Korean activists brave landmines in bid to spread peace message

Group of prominent women will march across the demilitarised zone as a symbolic act of peace

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For more than 60 years, it has been among the most fearsome stretches of ground on earth: a little over two miles between two heavily fortified fences, littered with more than a million landmines.

But now a group of 30 activists, led by Gloria Steinem, intend to walk across the demilitarised zone separating North and South Korea in pursuit of peace.

Next month, the group of prominent women will march across as a symbolic act of peace between the fraught nations. The group includes founders of global peace organisations, human rights activists and two Nobel Peace laureates.

They are calling for a final resolution to the Korean War of 1950 to 1953 and for the peace treaty promised within three years of the ceasefire, which never came.

Officials from South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles the country’s affairs with Pyongyang, said they have yet to decide if they will approve the action. Christine Ahn, co-founder of the WomenCrossDMZ group, has now received support to hold a symposium in North Korea on women and peace building. This came after attending meetings in Pyongyang in the past week with officials from the country’s Overseas Korean Committee and Democratic Women’s Union.

She told The Associated Press yesterday: “I wish I knew how the ultimate decision was made, but at this point I’m just relieved that at least we have Pyongyang’s cooperation and support.”

Ms Ahn, who also co-founded the National Campaign to End the Korean War, told The New York Times: “We are walking to imagine a new chapter in Korean history, marked by dialogue, understanding, and – ultimately – forgiveness.”

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the division of the Korean Peninsula, an act that tore many families apart. The ensuing Korean War claimed an estimated four million lives and is, technically, still not over.

The long-standing tension between the two countries has been exacerbated by entrenched suspicion and occasional outbreaks of violence along the DMZ since it was established in 1953 have added to the hostility.

The last recorded death in the area took place in September 2013, when South Korean soldiers shot a 47-year-old man who was attempting to swim across the Tanpocheon stream to reach North Korea.

Since then, North Korean drones have been found crashed in the DMZ and warning shots have been fired on North Korean soldiers, although no one was injured.