The exchange of fire across the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea is rapidly spiraling out of control and could escalate into a full-scale war. Women peacemakers who crossed the DMZ in May urgently call leaders of South Korea, North Korea and the United States to exercise restraint and return to the long-abandoned table for dialogue.
The tit-for-tat began on August 4th when a landmine exploded on the southern border of the DMZ and shattered the legs of two South Korean soldiers. In response, South Korean President Park Geun-hye erected massive speakers to blast anti North Korean propaganda across the DMZ. North Korea retaliated by launching a rocket at a loudspeaker, and South Korea fired back 36 artillery shells. Pyongyang has ordered North Korean troops along the front line and has set a 5 pm Korea Standard Time deadline for South Korea to turn off its speakers. Meanwhile, the U.S.-R.O.K. temporarily halted military exercises in what some fear is to prepare for retaliation.
“To defuse tensions, the first step the two Koreas can take is to launch a joint investigation into the cause of the landmine explosion, which offers an opportunity for cooperation and transparency,” says Christine Ahn of Women Cross DMZ, which led 30 women from Pyongyang across the DMZ to Seoul to call for an end to the Korean War. “Then they should join 80 percent of the world community by signing the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty to begin the urgent and humane process of de-mining the DMZ.”
“What I learned in meeting North and South Korean women on both sides of the DMZ is that the Korean people don’t want war, they want peace,” says Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate from Northern Ireland. “We urge Korean leaders to listen to their citizens, put down their weapons, and engage in dialogue.”
“The US-ROK war games elicit the same response from Pyongyang as does a North Korean nuclear test from Seoul and Washington,” says Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army Colonel and former U.S. diplomat. “Add South Korea’s anti-North propaganda loudspeakers and, together, these actions undeniably provoke North Korea.”
“Our leaders must engage in dialogue, for millions of divided Korean families still separated after a lifetime,” says Hyun-Kyung Chung, Professor at Union Theological Seminary. “Leaders must think of families first, military action last.”
“South Korean people do not want war with North Korea,” says AhnKim Jeong-Ae of Women Making Peace, a leading women’s peace organizations that co-sponsored the peace walk and symposium in South Korea. “We urge our leaders to exercise restraint in this dangerous moment as war will harm women, children and elderly the most.”
“At a time when worldwide civil society efforts are underway—from women to musicians to taekwondo masters to the ecumenical community—to build peace across the DMZ and end the war, Korean leaders are hardening and further militarizing the division,” says Christine Ahn. “Blaring propaganda across the DMZ deafens global calls for peace.”
2015 marks the 70th anniversary of Korea’s arbitrary division into two separate states by the U.S. and former Soviet Union, which precipitated the 1950-53 Korean War. After claiming 4 million lives, including 36,000 U.S. troops, North Korea, China, and the United States signed the Armistice Agreement. Although the ceasefire halted the war, without a peace settlement, the Korean War still lives on and the DMZ stands in the way of the reunification of the Korean people and millions of families.