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South Korea Approves Group’s Plan to March Across DMZ

FILE - Gloria Steinem, right, and Christine Ahn of of WomenCrossDMZ listen during a U.N. news conference announcing plans for a women's walk across the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea to call for reunification, March 11, 2015.

South Korea will allow a group of female activists to cross the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Friday.

Some 40 members of the WomenCrossDMZ, including prominent U.S. feminist Gloria Steinem, plan to march from North Korea to South Korea by crossing the heavily fortified zone May 24 to “call for an end to the Korean War.”

The Unification Ministry said, however, it might not allow the group to pass through the truce village of Panmunjom, as the group is planning to do. Instead, the ministry will ask the group to pass through the Gyeongui road, an inter-Korean passage recognized by North and South Korea.

A ministry official who asked to remain anonymous told the VOA Korean service that the Gyeongui road is more appropriate because Panmunjom is a region that manages the armistice system. The official also cited safety concerns.

Last year, a group of Korean-Russians crossed the zone by motorcade. In 2013, five New Zealanders crossed the DMZ with motorbikes. Those groups passed through the Gyeongui road after getting permission from both sides.

But the WomenCrossDMZ group is insisting on passing through Panmunjom, saying the place is a symbol of the division of Korea.

“Passing through Panmunjom is important if we are to achieve the goal of this event,” said an official from the group.

Early this month, the North notified the South of its decision to allow the group to pass through Panmunjom.

Some human rights activists criticized the march, calling on the group to focus on human rights violations by the communist country.

“We desperately need the voices of feminists protesting the murder, torture and exploitation of North Korean women by their own government,” Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, wrote in The Washington Post last month.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.

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