South Korea greenlights women's peace march across DMZ

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea gave the go-ahead Friday for a group of women's rights activists to march from North Korea across the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) in a call for peace led by American feminist Gloria Steinem.

Once dubbed "the scariest place on earth" by former US President Bill Clinton, the DMZ is, despite its name, one of the world's most heavily militarised frontiers, bristling with watchtowers and landmines.

Seoul's Unification Ministry said it would allow the group to cross the heavily-fortified border between the two Koreas on May 24.

However, the march will not pass through the truce village of Panmunjom where North and South Korean soldiers stand in a permanent face-off across the border.

"As to the course of entry, we plan ... to recommend the group uses the Gyeongui road," the ministry said in a statement texted to reporters.

The road crossing on the western part of the border is mainly used by South Koreans accessing the Kaesong joint industrial zone, which lies 10km inside the North.

Around 30 women are expected to take part in the crossing after holding a peace symposium and rally in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

The organisers, WomenCrossDMZ.org, said they had received permission from North Korea last month to traverse the border.

The marchers, who will also include Nobel peace laureates Leymah Gbowee and Mairead Maguire, hope the event will build momentum for a permanent peace treaty to replace the armistice that halted - but technically never ended - the 1950-1953 Korean War.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the division of the Korean peninsula into North and South following World War II.

The buffer zone stretches for 2km in both North and South Korea.

Crossings are extremely rare, but there is a recent precedent with five New Zealanders allowed to travel across on motorbikes in 2013.