U.S.-based aid groups are continuing to supply aid to North Korea—despite threats of war from Pyongyang against South Korea and the United States.
“At this point, there has been no effect on World Vision’s humanitarian assistance to the people of North Korea,” said Randall Spadoni, East Asia advisor for the relief organization.
Christian Friends of Korea (CFK), another U.S.-based aid group that has provided medical and food aid to the country since 1995, said it also is continuing to work there. CFK works primarily in rural areas, where the government has granted it rare access, and still plans a relief trip in May.
Both the U.S. government and the North Koreans have allowed select aid groups to provide direct assistance to North Koreans, who face one of the highest rates of impoverishment and starvation in the world. But recent tension could change that: On April 2 the communist regime announced it would restart the nuclear reactors at its Yongbyon complex, which have been closed since 2007. The United States and other countries made closure of such facilities a condition of continued humanitarian aid.
North Korea announced a “state of war” with South Korea and its allies in late March, with leader Kim Jong Un posing in front of maps portraying missile strikes on Hawaii and other U.S. Pacific bases. The United States has taken the threat seriously, flying F-22 Stealth fighters into South Korea, while recognizing the rogue nation’s history of “bellicose rhetoric,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.
Since then, the regime cut its military hotline with South Korea, adopted an ordinance to expand its nuclear weapons program, and on April 3 blocked access to the Kaesong industrial zone, a complex it has run jointly with South Korea.
And the Pyongyang government’s historic clampdown on North Koreans continues. Despite the high-level tension, “everything is business as usual” for those surviving in the countryside, said Terry Smith, program coordinator of CFK. “They don’t get the same news as Pyongyang or the rest of world gets.”
More than 6,000 people died in Syria in March, the deadliest month since protests against the government began two years ago, observers say. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based activist group that opposes the Assad regime, said it recorded 6,005 deaths last month. Victims included at least 291 women, 298 children, 1,486 rebel fighters and army defectors, and 1,464 government troops. While the Observatory says the death toll may be much higher than the 62,554 deaths it has documented, the UN has said deaths in the conflict number at least 70,000.
Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting girls’ education, signed a book deal worth $3 million, according to the BBC. I Am Malala, set for publication this fall, will shed light on the life of the young activist who gained worldwide attention after the Taliban tried to kill her on her way home from school last October. “I want to tell my story, but it will also be the story of 61 million children who can’t get education. I want it to be part of the campaign to give every boy and girl the right to go to school,” Yousafzai said in a recent press release.
Fears of a new Somalia
The overthrow of Central African Republic’s French-backed government on March 24 caught foreign and local church workers by surprise and may prove the latest Islamic incursion in West Africa.
Rebels supporting the Seleka Coalition led by Michel Djotodia looted and pillaged the Catholic Padre Pio Charity Home in the days following the coup, stealing its generator and leaving the home and clinic for orphans without water and electricity.
At the same time, fighting forced other Christian workers to take refuge inside the French embassy in Bangui, the capital. Paul Mpindi, his wife, Charlotte, and another worker, Jacky Chery, reported that many spent the night after the coup under their beds as looting and shooting continued throughout Bangui. Mpindi, French ministry leader for Back to God Ministries International (BTGMI), eventually found French soldiers who evacuated him and others to the airport, which had remained under French military control. They landed safely in Paris March 28.
CAR is a majority Christian nation, but Djotodia is a Muslim, along with many of his rebel backers. In the days following the coup, rebels targeted government ministers with ties to Christian work in the land-locked nation, surrounding their homes, ransacking livestock, and stealing vehicles.
But the rebels, too, are divided, with some uncertain how long they will support Djotodia, who proclaimed himself president following the coup. Ousted president François Bozizé reportedly fled with hundreds of heavily armed soldiers. “We fear that there will now be no end to the rebellions in the country,” said one worker, who is not identified for security reasons. “Fears remain that the country could become another Somalia.” —Mindy Belz
North Dakota lawmakers on March 22 approved a “personhood” amendment that would ban nearly all abortions in the state, with exceptions for the life of the mother, incest, or rape. North Dakota voters in November 2014 will have to decide whether to add language to the state’s constitution protecting “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development.”
The personhood amendment is one of several abortion bans North Dakota has passed this year. Many legal experts think strict laws like the personhood amendment will be overturned in court, but the amendment’s sponsor, state Sen. Margaret Sitte, is hoping for the fight: “We are intending that it be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, since [Justice Antonin] Scalia said that the Supreme Court is waiting for states to raise a case.”
9/11 cross cleared
A U.S. district court ruled March 29 that a cross-shaped steel beam housed at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum doesn’t violate the U.S. Constitution or mean the museum is “endorsing Christianity.” American Atheists sued the museum in 2011, claiming that displaying the cross affirmed Christianity, disrespected the contributions of non-Christian rescuers, and violated the constitutional separation of church and state.
But U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts rejected those arguments and counter-argued that the cross and its accompanying panels of text demonstrated “how those at ground zero coped with the devastation they witnessed during the rescue and recovery effort.” She ruled that the museum’s creators aren’t advancing religion, nor does the artifact “create excessive entanglement between the state and religion.”
Connecticut police aren’t sure what motivated Adam Lanza to kill 20 first-graders and six teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, but at the end of March they released police documents from the day of the shooting.
Search warrants from Lanza’s home, where he killed his mother before heading to the elementary school, showed he had an arsenal of weapons and ammunition, photos of a dead body, and a clipping from an article on a past school shooting. Lanza’s mother purchased all of the guns involved legally.
According to the newly released information, police arrived at the school on the day of the shooting five minutes after Lanza broke in and found him dead with three guns, including an automatic rifle which he used in the shooting. They recovered 154 spent casings at the school and three unused 30-round magazines in addition to other partly used magazines. This month the Connecticut legislature agreed on details of tighter gun restrictions, including a ban on purchases of the type of high-capacity magazines Lanza used in the school shooting. But Connecticut gun owners will be able to keep their existing high-capacity magazines, a disappointment to gun restriction advocates. For now the U.S. Congress is not moving toward any new gun restrictions.
This month’s descent of Stockton, Calif., into bankruptcy could have nationwide consequences. The Chapter 9 bankruptcy case may decide whether federal bankruptcy law trumps a California law that says debts to the state pension fund must be honored. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein will decide whether Stockton, the most populous city in the nation to file for bankruptcy, will win the protection over objections from creditors who argue the city failed to first pursue all other means to right its financial affairs. If it receives bankruptcy protection, the city begins negotiations over debt repayment that some say could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. Stockton owes $900 million to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System to cover pension promises.