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BUILDING TENSION: Kim Jong Un observes live ammunition drills deployed in the southwestern sector in North Korea.
KCNA via KNS/AP
BUILDING TENSION: Kim Jong Un observes live ammunition drills deployed in the southwestern sector in North Korea.

Rhetoric and run-up

News | And other news briefs

Issue: "Unstoppable?," April 20, 2013

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.

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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.”

Syrian toll

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.

Booked

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. 

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