Controversy Follows As Activists Cross North-South Korean Border
ARUN RATH, HOST:
Women's right pioneer Gloria Steinem and dozens of international activists crossed the fortified border between North and South Korea today. The crossing was aimed at reunifying two nations still technically at war. But as NPR's Elise Hu reports, it ended up exposing a distrust that has persisted for decades.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: In the end, the much-publicized peace walk across the inter-Korean border was really a bus ride. South Korean immigration officials insisted the women ride across the border for their own safety. Still, 81-year-old women's rights leader Gloria Steinem said just getting agreement to cross at all counts as a win.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
GLORIA STEINEM: It was an enormous - an enormous triumph.
HU: The women called for a peace treaty between North and South Korea - something never signed after the end of fighting in the Korean War. Normalizing relations sounds good, but in their calls for peace, the group's drawn criticisms from human rights groups. Alex Gladstein of the Human Rights Foundation is one of them.
ALEX GLADSTEIN: This group, in no way, shape or form, has ever criticized the North Korean government and, in fact, has actually covered for it and made excuses for it. This isn't some wishy-washy government that might be doing something good. This is the world's most repressive government.
HU: Gladstein says North Korea knew what it was doing in approving the walk.
GLADSTEIN: I would describe it as a marketing stunt for the North Korean government.
HU: Some South Koreans agree. They showed up to protest the women with signs saying go back to North Korea. In a somewhat tense press conference, Steinem rejected claims the group was exploited.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
STEINEM: So just cut it out, OK? (Laughter). Nothing we do can change the image of North Korea or can change the image of any country, right? We are trying to make person-by-person connections.
HU: The peace walk is done, but peace will take much longer. North Korea's recent moves to test a submarine-launched missile, uninvite the U.N. secretary general to visit and to publicly execute its top officials have left the country where it's been - out in the cold in international politics. Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.