CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 September 2018

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Walking for peace in Korea

SEOUL (SE) : The People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy has organised a six-day march for peace on the Korean Peninsula, beginning at the City Hall in Jeju on Korean Armistice Day, July 27, and finishing in Gangjeong village, the site of resistance to the building of a giant naval base on the island province, on August 1.

That date marks the 3,000th day of continuous resistance to the building of the naval base in the island province by the local people. The Church in Korea has formed a vital part of the resistance and it has received support from bishops and religious, as well as from people from all over South Korea.

It is also seen as a democratic issue, as the government has continued to turn a deaf ear to the cry of many people.

Armistice Day marks the anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in the Korean War, when although it was never officially declared ended, the agreement saw a stop to the overt hostilities between Seoul and Pyongyang.

The two Koreas were then divided by what is known as the Demilitarised Zone, which to today, remains one of the most heavily armed and fortified patches of ground in the world.

The armistice was signed in 1953 by a lieutenant general from the United States of America (US), William Harrison, and a general from North Korea, Nam Il.

Its purpose was described as being to “insure a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieved.”

However, no final settlement to officially end the war has ever been achieved.

The president of South Korea at the time, Syngman Rhee, was initially against the agreement, but realised that his armies could never crush resistance in the north without the help of the United Nations Forces and, specifically, the US. This was not going to be forthcoming, so he relinquished his ambition.

Kim Il-sung, from North Korea, also did not want a cessation, as he, like his counterpart in Seoul, wanted to unify the whole of the peninsula under one rule.

Both leaders capitulated and gave their consent to the agreement which required that both sides would “cease the introduction into Korea of any reinforcing air, ground or naval units or personnel... and to refrain from increasing the level of war equipment and material existing in Korea.”

But while the Demilitarised Zone has remained intact, both sides of the dividing line have built up considerable military force over the years, the south with the assistance of the US.

A spokesperson for the People’s March, which will divide into two groups and approach the village of Gangjeong from both the east and the west, said that the naval base in Jeju, apart from being way out of line with the terms of the Korean Armistice, represents a significant military irritant at a time when tensions in Asia are reaching an extremely high level.

It is also destroying a pristine coastline, which has been declared one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The military facility will destroy the natural environment and perpetuate the posture of war on the Korean Peninsula.

Participants in the march are asked to pay 10,000 won ($66.40) a day, or 60,000 won ($398.40) for the full six days to participate. The fee includes a T-shirt and food, as well as accommodation along the way. Students are free of charge.

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