South Korea said on Wednesday it would likely support a proposed walk by prominent women activists across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas. The government is set to approve the walk, which includes prominent feminist Gloria Steinem, next month, if the North gives its formal support for the event, Unification Ministry spokesman Lim Byeong Cheol said, according to the Associated Press.
The group of 30 women will take the cross-border walk in an effort to raise awareness of the conflict between the two nations, and as a way to move towards reunification.
"It's hard to imagine any more physical symbol of the insanity of dividing human beings," Steinem said, announcing the walk last month, according to the AP. The women participating in the walk will include two Nobel laureates, as well as authors, academics and aid workers. The walk has been scheduled to mark the 70th anniversary of the division of the Koreas along the 38th parallel.
The women still need authorization from the U.N. Command at the DMZ. An anonymous U.N. Command spokesman told the AP that it generally grants permission to civilian crossings if both Koreas approve. A group of New Zealanders crossed the DMZ with motorbikes in 2013 and another group of Korean-Russians drove a motorcade through the border in 2014 after getting permission from both states.
The group’s organizers are calling on world leaders, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. President Barack Obama, to take steps to replace the existing 1953 armistice with a permanent peace treaty.
Although the walk is being promoted by the organizers as a gesture for peace, some critics in the U.S. have accused its participants for having allegedly soft views on North Korea's human rights record, and have raised concerns that the march may serve in favor of Pyongyang's propaganda efforts.
"What I know about some of those participating in this group is that they have views that are fairly pro-Kim regime, pro-North Korean," human rights activist Greg Scarlatou said in a CNN interview earlier this month.
Liberty North Korea’s research director Sokeel Park told the Daily Beast that the walk would likely alienate the South. "The best chance of bringing North Korea into the international mainstream, for the benefit of the North Korean people and the broader region, is to bring forward the opening and normalization of North Korea as a country," Park said.
"This unfortunately is not achievable through a silver bullet peace agreement, but it can absolutely happen if we accelerate the economic and information changes emerging in North Korean society."