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Peace prospects in Korea

June 12, 2018

by Mary-Wynne Ashford

Dr. Ashford, third from left, marches with women at the DMZ

In spite of plans for a summit between US President Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim lurching forward and back, in Korea there is a great sense of hope for peace between North and South. In fact two historic events unfolded in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on May 26th. 

The first was a Women’s Peace March. I walked with 1,100 women across the Reunification Bridge to a Peace Park in the DMZ. The Mayor of Paju told us that this was the first time civilians ever crossed the bridge on foot. Hundreds of women sang and danced in a spiral, holding bright, silky banners overhead, not in the least fatigued after five and a half kilometres walking in the blazing sun. Nobel Peace Laureate, Mairead Maguire addressed the crowd, along with local dignitaries. I sat in the shade eating ice cream and revelling in their sense that Korea has entered a new era.

Meanwhile, unknown to us, a second historic meeting between President Moon Jae-In and Chairman Kim Jong Un was happening a short distance from us in Panmunjom. The TV images of the two leaders jubilantly hugging, matched the celebrations of the women in the Park. President Moon has advised his staff to be prepared for peace meetings on short notice as the situation continues to evolve at breath-taking speed.

For 65 years Koreans have longed to have their families and their country reunited. Because the Truce of 1953 did not advance to a Peace Treaty, North Korea and the US have continued in a state of war ever since. Koreans want a Peace Treaty, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and reunification of North and South.

Women have played a significant role in the movement toward peace. In 2015 an international group called Women Cross the DMZ met with 7000 women in Pyongyang and Kaesong City in North Korea and then crossed to Seoul where they met thousands more women calling for peace. At that time, the public mood was not very receptive and they faced a small hostile group in Seoul who protested against their work.

Christine Ahn led Women Cross the DMZ

When I joined the group this year, the atmosphere had completely changed to one of great optimism and hope for peace. The activities of Women Cross the DMZ and its leader, Christine Ahn drew massive media coverage in Korea and internationally.

As peace negotiations progress, it is now essential that women be fully engaged in the talks. When women have been active participants in peace negotiations elsewhere, the negotiations have been far more likely to succeed, and the agreements more likely to hold for more than fifteen years.

As Korea moves to reunification, it faces many issues and obstacles, not the least of which is the importance of concluding a Peace Treaty with the US. There were actually twenty-four countries engaged in the Korean War. Now that there is movement toward peace and denuclearization, those countries have an obligation to support the Treaty process to end the war and allow the Korean people to exercise their sovereignty over the Peninsula. Ending the punishing sanctions must not wait for the negotiations to be completed.

The train to peace has already left the station, and its time for the US and the rest of the world to get aboard.

[Dr. Ashford is a past co-president of IPPNW and an honorary board member of Canadian Voice of Women. She led two medical delegations to North Korea in 1999 and 2000.]

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