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Northern Ireland Nobel Peace Prize Winner Mairead Maguire to join peacemaker women in Korea 'Walk for Peace'

By Claire Williamson

Published 24/04/2015

Mairead Maguire
Mairead Maguire

A Northern Ireland Nobel Peace Prize winner is one of thirty female peacemakers from twelve countries hoping to walk across the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea.

Last month the North Korean government gave its permission for an international women's peace walk across the demilitarized zone which separates it from South Korea.

Now the women are waiting to hear the South Korean government's decision to cross the two-mile wide DMZ.

On May 24, 2015, which is International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament, thirty women peacemakers from twelve countries plan to walk across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea.

2015 marks the 70th anniversary of Korea’s division into two separate states by Cold War powers, which precipitated the 1950-53 Korean War.

Mairead Maguire from Northern Ireland is the honorary co-chair of the Walking For Peace project.

Mairead was the aunt of the three Maguire children who died as a result of being hit by an Irish Republican Army getaway car after its driver was shot by a British soldier.

She was awarded the 1976  Nobel Peace Award which she shared with Betty Williams, for her actions to help end the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Mairead together with Betty Williams and Ciaran McKeown, organised massive peace demonstrations appealing for a nonviolent solution to the conflict.

They co-founded the Peace People, a movement committed to building a peaceful society in Northern Ireland.

Last month, the government of North Korea agreed to support the walk, but officials from South Korea have yet to voice a decision. The United Nations Command at the DMZ has said it will facilitate the crossing once the South Korean government gives its approval.

Writing on openDemocracy Mairead said the women peacemakers believe it is "only right that they should walk there in solidarity with their Korean sisters, who want to see an end to the 70-year-old conflict and reunite millions of Korean families".

She said: "In Korean culture, family relations are deeply important, and millions of families have been painfully separated for seventy years.

"Although there was a period of reconciliation during the Sunshine Policy years between the two Korean governments in which many families had the joy of reunion, the vast majority of families remain separated. Many elders have sadly died without ever seeing their families reunited.

"North Korea’s economy has also suffered greatly due to Western sanctions and isolationist policies. While the country has come a long way since the 1990s, when hundreds of thousands – and possibly even millions – died from famine, many people are still very poor and lack the basics for survival.

"During a visit to Seoul in 2007, an aid worker told me that most people in South Korea would love to pack their car with food and drive an hour up the road into North Korea to help their Korean brothers and sisters if the governments would agree to open the DMZ and let them cross over to see each other.

"The DMZ, with its barbed wire, armed soldiers on both sides, and thousands of explosive landmines, is a tragic physical manifestation of how much the Korean people have suffered and lost in war. Yet, from all my encounters with the Korean people, it seems all they wish for is to be reconciled and live in peace with each other.

She continued: "On May 24, we want to walk for peace in North and South Korea, and hope that all governments will support our crossing of the DMZ, recognizing that we are doing this because we care for our Korean brothers and sisters.

"We want to plant a seed showing that Koreans, too, should be free to cross the DMZ in their work towards reconciliation, putting an end to the division and fear that keep them in a state of war. "

Further reading:

Nobel winner Mairead Maguire in impassioned plea to end Gaza siege 

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