Women leaders from 38 countries have sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urging him to initiate a peace process that would officially end the Korean War before he leaves office.
The letter was co-sponsored by Women Cross DMZ, which organized a peaceful walk across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) last year and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, had promised such an initiative before taking office in 2007. North and South Korea technically remain at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
As a result the DMZ, separating the two Koreas is the most heavily fortified border in the world.
The letter to Ban was signed by 132 women, including 22 from South Korea. It urges Ban to initiate a peace process via the UN Security Council with the aim of concluding it by 2018, "the 70th anniversary of Korea's division into two separate states."
At a press conference to announce the letter, Cora Weiss, president of the Hague Appeal for Peace said: "The secretary-general has the opportunity to build on his own legacy as the world's most important peacemaker." She added "Ban can demonstrate that nuclear threats can be met with a diplomatic recipe of engagement, lifting sanctions, and promise of trade and aid, in exchange for North Korea giving up its nuclear ambition."
The signatories of the letter include American women's rights activists Gloria Steinem and Eve Ensler, Nobel Peace laureates Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and UNESCO goodwill ambassador Kim Phuc.
Phuc, more commonly known as ‘Napalm girl' became an international symbol for the horrors of war in 1972 when, as a 9-year-old girl, she was photographed running down a road screaming, after a napalm attack on her Vietnamese village.
Valerie Plame, reported to be a CIA operative in 2003 also signed the letter.
The initiative came as tensions continue to rise on the Korean peninsula.
North Korea has alarmed its South Korean neighbor and their western allies with a series of nuclear and missile tests.
In response, the US has agreed to deploy a sophisticated missile defense system, known as THAAD, in the South. Further tests by North Korea have accelerated plans for the anti-missile deployment.
Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, told a US congressional hearing that the timing was up to the Pentagon.
But he added: "Given the accelerating pace of North Korea's missile tests, we intend to deploy on an accelerated basis - I would say as soon as possible."
bik/jm (AP, Reuters, dpa)