Friday, November 19, 2004

Interview with a North Korean Christian leader.

Date: Friday 19 November 2004
Subj: Interview with a North Korean Christian leader.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

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INTERVIEW WITH A NORTH KOREAN CHRISTIAN LEADER
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The following interview is with a Christian leader from North Korea, whom we will call "Pastor North" for security reasons. It needs to be said that it is impossible for anyone to evaluate fully the outlook in that nation. Pastor North however has excellent contacts and many personal channels of information.

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WHAT IS HAPPENING IN NORTH KOREA?

Global Voice (GV): How do you see the situation in North Korea today?

Pastor North (PN): It is becoming increasingly dangerous for several reasons. Our government considers the talk about "the axis of evil", the new US law on North Korea and the re-election of President Bush as real threats. 'We are on the same latitude as Iraq and the next country could be North Korea,' said one influential person. North Korea argues that they also must have "the right to strike first". So my understanding is that there is a real danger of war and that it would be a disaster for both North and South Korea. Demonstrations in the South against the changes to the National Security Law are also seen as a hostile activity.

GV: How then in your opinion should the West deal with North Korea?

PN: Our government has two faces. One is the face of a nation that does whatever we want without caring at all about international opinion. I understand this face has created a lot of negative reaction in the West. The other is the face of negotiating. This face is open for talks and suggestions but usually needs two or three months to give an answer. The difficulty is the two faces are on the same head and each affects the other.

GV: Do you see any positive changes in North Korea?

PN: Yes, I can see some changes. The government wants to open up just 'a little bit' for private enterprise. People can now for the first time sell their own produce. They cannot buy products to process and sell, but they can grow vegetables or fruit and sell them in the market place. This is a very small opening for private enterprise but we expect the door to open up more. There has also been a lot of cultural, economic and sporting exchange with South Korea in the last few years. Also, an industrial zone in the south of our country is being built in partnership with South Korea. That too will be an interesting project.

GV: What is the situation for the Christian Church?

PN: As you know, there are a few official churches and they have received a number of theological books in recent years. There are many people in these churches about whom we really know little, but there are also members who have been Christians for 40 or 50 years. Most Christians of course meet in their homes, but it is impossible to say more than there is a house-church movement in our country. Many Christians are in prison, but I also know many Christians who are not and I think the State knows they are Christians. The most common comment of course on this question and many others is "we do not know", as there is practically no communication.

GV: So, what can Christians in the West do?

PN: There are two important things. The first one is to pray for the Church in North Korea, and the other is to build bridges and help our country. It would be so important for our government to understand that Christians in the West want to be the friends of our people and not supporters of a hostile policy against us. So visits by church delegations bringing help would be a step in the right direction.

GV: Do you see any changes coming soon ?

PN: No, because there is no Opposition in this country and absolutely no network to co-ordinate any demand for changes. The strong feeling amongst people is that we are under threat of attack. That unites us, as well as the media giving just one version of both the national and the international situation. Radios are made so that we are able to listen only to North Korean radio stations.

GV: What if the leader should die?

PN: First of all we would not know about it for a long time. By then I am sure that the leading elite would have appointed a new leader. Our country is really based on a sort of caste system. The workers are the lowest caste and the highest castes are the generals and the political elite who have many advantages. They live a very good life with everything they need. They would not risk losing their position and in the common interest of that caste they would choose a new leader amongst themselves, to avoid any loss of privilege.

GV: What is your hope for the future?

PN: That has an easy answer - PEACE! Our country is very poor and people are suffering. Should war would break out, the terrible suffering that would bring to the Korean peninsula is inconceivable. And not only that - such a war could trigger an even wider conflict. What would China do in such a situation? [A South Korean military report presented to parliament on 5 October reported that China has said it would send 400,000 troops, 800 aircraft and 150 navy vessels to support its ally North Korea if war broke out on the Korean Peninsula. SCMP 6 Oct 2004 - EKendal] As followers of Jesus Christ we must all work for peace and for the well-being of the ordinary people God has created.

END

Reforming North Korea.

Date: Friday 19 November 2004
Subj: Reforming North Korea.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

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REFORMING NORTH KOREA
- Implementing the North Korea Human Rights Act

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On 18 October 2004, President G.W. Bush signed the North Korea Human Rights Act into law. The law, which will be effective from 2005 to 2008, grants $2 million a year to groups supporting human rights, democracy and a market economy in North Korea, and allocates $20 million a year to help settle North Korean refugees. The law also calls for doubling American radio broadcasting to North Korea to 12 hours a day and smuggling radios into North Korea. It will ensure that human rights are on the agenda when negotiating.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomed the move. USCIRF Chair Preeta D. Bansal notes, "The human rights violations of the Kim Jong Il regime are among the most serious worldwide. The North Korea Human Rights Act makes improving human rights protections a priority in U.S. relations with North Korea. And, it gives U.S. policy-makers tools to act on that priority." (USCIRF, 19 Oct 2004)

However, not everyone has welcomed the North Korea Human Rights Act with enthusiasm. As was expected, the North Korean regime is unimpressed and has vowed not to take part in regional talks over its nuclear weapons program until the "hostile" law is repealed.

Tension over the Act is however, most acute in South Korea. Lee Bu-young, the Chairman of the ruling Uri Party, has expressed "grave" concerns, fearing that the Act is designed to hasten the collapse of North Korea and that could be catastrophic for the Korean Peninsula. After the Act was passed by the US Senate, Lee said, "I am looking at the issue with grave concern because it could negatively affect inter-Korean relations and the six-way talks. It's a foregone conclusion that the situation surrounding the Korean peninsula will be aggravated further." (Korean Times, 30 Sept 2004)

South Korea's main political opposition however, the Grand National Party (GNP), has embraced the ACT and harshly criticised Uri Party members for "placing inter-Korean ties ahead of human rights". The GNP has hailed the Act as a major step forward toward liberating oppressed and impoverished North Koreans.

The North Korean Human Rights Acts is wonderful in principle. However, the specific and unique realities of the tenuous "peace" on the Korean Peninsula and the unique nature of the North Korean regime – headed by a Communist dictator who came to power through dynastic succession, who is surrounded by an enormous military, and who might actually believe the myths and fantasies he spins and perpetuates – makes dealing with the regime an extremely difficult and delicate exercise.

The implementation of the Act will need to be as sensitive as the defusing of a bomb. North Korea cannot be treated the same as Belarus (for example), for with North Korea the risks are much greater and the stakes are much higher. It requires great urgency in prayer and great delicacy, patience, and intelligent, sensitive strategy on the ground.

SEARCHING FOR OPENINGS

After the horrific 23 April 2004 explosion in Ryongchon, a WEA RL Prayer bulletin was issued calling for prayer for the victims and for the tragedy to be a means by which the door into North Korea might be further opened. The final paragraph of that prayer bulletin states: "There is no civil society in North Korea, no political opposition, and after 50 years of anti-world propaganda the people are quite brainwashed. Most have known no other life and know NO truth. North Korean society no longer has any foundations, so that regime collapse could be disastrous. What the nation really needs is to open up and be transformed from within. God alone can work that miracle." (Link 1)

According to a 16 November Reuters report, Kathi Zellweger of the Catholic aid organisation Caritas believes North Korea is slowly changing and an entrepreneurial spirit developing but Pyongyang is presently in a "stop phase" while authorities assess how market reforms have affected the communist system so far. Zellweger says, "Regime change is what some groups of people hope for. But I believe what is happening is that very slowly the nature of the regime is changing, albeit at a very slow pace." Zellweger fears the North Korea Human Rights Acts will lead to a tightening of the government's control of the people and of NGOs. (Link 2)

Kaesong industrial park in North Korea is 10 km north of the de-militarised zone (DMZ) and 90 km by highway from South Korea's Incheon Airport. It is the invention of South Korean economic strategists who envisaged it as a means of pulling South Korea out of its economic doldrums. The South Korean government supports it because of its potential to increase cross-border ties, improve relations, and gradually lessen the economic disparity between the north and south, thus easing the way for reunification.

About 230 South Korean officials, businessmen, ruling and opposition lawmakers and journalists took part in the official opening of the Kaesong industrial park on 20 October 2004. Kaesong, which opened with 13 South Korean manufacturers, will be funded by the south but staffed by the north. As Straits Times Interactive notes, "North Koreans could be working in South Korean factories by the end of this year." Presently 130 Seoul companies are on a waiting list to open factories in Kaesong, which is expected to eventually draw billions of dollars in investments and employ 730,000 North Koreans and 100,000 South Koreans in more than 1,000 South Korean companies. (STI 21 Oct 2004)

The North Korean famine of the 1990s, which occurred as a result of poor governance, produced an immense amount of grief and suffering. An article by Andreas Lorenz entitled "Joyful Dancing", in the German publication Der Spiegel, reports that the people have grown tired of suffering and brutal oppression. Lorenz mentions a new, soon-to-be-published book about North Korea by Jasper Becker (48), a British author and journalist living in Beijing. According to Lorenz, Becker writes that factories, military units, and even entire towns have revolted against the leadership in Pyongyang during the years of famine and suffering. These rebellions have been brutally crushed and, according to Becker, "Resentment against Kim is deeply entrenched in the population," including amongst elements of the military. This is no doubt why 100,000 elite guards are required to guarantee Kim's survival. (Link 3)

Those things Kim jong-Il desires most of all, survival and prestige, appear to be on shaky ground according to even the most recent reports (see link 4). Maybe this is the biggest bargaining chip of all. To avoid catastrophe on the Korean Peninsula, would the US be willing to ensure Kim's survival and prestige in exchange for reforms for which Kim would of course take all credit? This would involve great humility on the part of the US. It would involve leaving justice, regarding Kim, in the the hands of God. It could only be done by looking past the man, Kim jong-Il, and keeping eyes firmly fixed on the goal: the liberation and reform of North Korea, for the sake of North Korea's suffering and oppressed millions.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 271 - Wed 12 May 2004
NORTH KOREA: DESPERATELY NEEDS AN OPEN DOOR
http://worldevangelical.org/persec_northkorea_12may04.html

2) N.Korea is changing but in "stop phase" - aid worker
By Martin Nesirky in SEOUL. Reuters 16 Nov 2004.
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/SEO337281.htm

3) Joyful Dancing, by Andeas Lorenz.
Der Spiegel. 30 Oct 2004
http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/english/0,1518,325971,00.html

4) Mystery as Kim title, posters go. CNN 18 Nov 2004
http://edition.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/asiapcf/11/17/kim.cult.ap/index.html

SEE ALSO

North Korea background and prayer request
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 236 - Wed 10 Sep 2003
http://worldevangelical.org/persec_korea_10sep03.html

SUMMARY OF H.R. 4011 - THE NORTH KOREA HUMAN RIGHTS ACT
http://www.nkfreedom.org/

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

IVORY COAST : CHRISTIANS ANXIOUS AS WAR THREATENS

WEA Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 298 - Wed 17 Nov 2004

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IVORY COAST : CHRISTIANS ANXIOUS AS WAR THREATENS
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By Elizabeth Kendal

When mostly Muslim rebels (backed with foreign funds and arms) seized control of northern Ivory Coast (IC) in 2002, Christians, southerners and government supporters fled south for their lives. As those fleeing included most of northern IC's doctors, nurses, professionals, administrators and school teachers, living conditions in the north have deteriorated markedly under rebel control. Of great concern are reports from MSF (Doctors without Borders) and the UN that AIDS has increased markedly in the north of IC as desperate girls prostitute themselves to survive. Having abandoned the government of national unity, the rebels declared in mid October their refusal to negotiate further or disarm.

On 4 November, President Laurent Gbagbo launched a surprise air raid on rebel strongholds in the north, attempting to defeat them militarily and re-unify the country. When nine French peacekeepers in rebel territory were killed in an IC air raid on 6 November, France immediately responded by destroying the two IC helicopter gunships used in the raid. France then struck pre-emptively to 'neutralise' IC air power, destroying all IC's air force planes and the airport tarmac. When French tanks then headed for the Presidential Palace, government supporters streamed into the streets and created a human shield around it. Some government supporters furiously attacked French interests. Whilst no non-African died in the protests, French soldiers killed up to 100 and wounded some 1,000 protesting government supporters.

Though France, the former colonial power in IC, is acting as peacekeeper and peace mediator, it is not neutral. Intelligence agencies have long believed that France would like to see or even engineer a coup in IC. President Gbagbo is opposed to the pro-France policies of IC, believing they are not in IC's best interests. Gbagbo's rival, A D Ouattara, the president of the RDR party to which the rebels are aligned, implemented many pro-France initiatives when he was IC Prime Minister. France would benefit economically if Ouattara were back in power. What we have today is a still uncertain future, with a three-way stand off between the IC, France and the rebels.

IC has a huge population of immigrants from Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso, its poorer northern Islamic neighbours. The possibility of the rebels' aims succeeding causes IC's Christians great anxiety, as all these migrants would be naturalised, making IC instantly a Muslim majority nation. Then, by the strength of their votes, the constitution could be amended and A D Ouattara
elected president. (Presently he is barred from the presidency due to issues of nationality.) If that happens, IC will never be the same again, but will become a reflection of its northern Islamic neighbours. This scenario does not sit well with Ivorians – Muslim, Christian and traditional religionists – who regard their liberty as precious.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* God to expose the plots and schemes of corrupt, self-serving
politicians who would destabilise a free and prosperous nation
in pure self-interest.

* great wisdom for all IC leaders, especially President Gbagbo
who is a Christian; may he draw close to God in this crisis, and
emerge more dependent on God than ever before. 'Some nations
boast of their armies and weapons, but we boast in the Lord our
God.' (Psalm 20:7 NLT) 'The horses are prepared for battle, but
the victory belongs to the Lord.' (Proverbs 21:31 NLT)

* Christians in Ivory Coast to be drawn to pray, and may they
receive wisdom, courage and radiant power from the Holy Spirit
for visible Christ-likeness in the midst of a society filled
with hostility, fear, anger and confusion. 'Godliness helps
people all through life, while the evil are destroyed by their
wickedness.' (Proverbs 13:6)

* God to be preparing the Church in Ivory Coast to be an
instrument of grace, reconciliation and healing.

* Almighty God to rescue Ivory Coast, and for justice and liberty
to prevail across the whole nation.

Friday, November 5, 2004

Liberia: Provocateurs threaten religious harmony.

Date: Friday 5 November 2004
Subj: Liberia: Provocateurs threaten religious harmony.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


On Thursday evening, 28 October 04, an incident in Paynesville, an eastern suburb of Monrovia, Liberia, triggered violence that escalated rapidly and spread to several Monrovia suburbs. Order was only restored through the "robust" peacekeeping efforts of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and Liberian National Police, as well as a government-imposed 24-hour, indefinite curfew. Rioters were warned that anyone found with a weapon would be regarded as an extreme threat and dealt with accordingly. UN peacekeepers were given permission to use "maximum force" against anyone found attempting to disturb the peace. On Saturday the curfew was amended to 4pm-7am. By Monday 1 November relative calm had been restored.

While any threat to Liberian peace is tragic, the most serious aspect of this incident is the religious nature of the violence. It is critical to note however, that the religious violence appears not to have been instigated by people with religious zeal or purpose. Rather, it appears that those who profit from conflict, those who thrive on war, and those who would stop at nothing to disrupt the disarmament process (due for completion on Sunday 31 October), either took advantage of a relatively minor situation to whip up unrest, or strategically planned and then created that situation and orchestrated the unrest for their own purposes. It is emerging now that it is these criminals who set fire to both mosques and churches. Those seeking conflict clearly believe that the best way to return the country to war is to incite religious violence.

While the authorities have been firm and effective in dealing with the crisis, the incident has doubtless raised religious tensions and in particular, Islamic zeal. (Muslims are a minority in Liberia.) Evangelical elements in the Liberian Church and the interim government of Gyude Bryant will need our prayers and support, that the nation's journey towards disarmament, reconciliation and peace may not be hijacked.

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HOW THE VIOLENCE UNFOLDED

The trigger for the unrest was a land dispute in Monrovia's eastern suburb of Paynesville at around 5p.m. on Thursday evening 28 October. The Inter Regional Information Network (IRIN) (from the UN's office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs) reports: "Residents in Paynesville said the trouble began when a group of former fighters of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel group beat up a man who objected to them building a house on his land. These men were from the Mandingo ethnic group. The injured man's family and neighbours subsequently set up a manhunt for all Mandingos in the area that led to the burning of the mosque." (Link 1)

The former LURD fighters who provoked this incident are Mandingos – the main ethnic group associated with LURD. There is deep resentment and mistrust of Mandingos in Liberia due to the appalling atrocities committed in recent years by LURD. The Mandingo are historically and predominantly Muslim. The victim was not Mandingo and was not Muslim. While his family and neighbours sought revenge by attacking local Mandingos, it is not to be assumed that these particular rioters are responsible for the burning of the local mosque.

According to IRIN, "Muslim crowds subsequently burned down three churches and on Friday morning, Christian youths armed with sticks, knives and broken bottles burned down the Muslim Congress High School in central Monrovia, the only Islamic high school in the city. They also tried unsuccessfully [due to the intervention of Nigerian peacekeepers – EK] to burn down the two main mosques in central Monrovia."

Religious violence also erupted in Kakata, a town 50 km northeast of Monrovia, in Liberia's second city Buchanan, 120 km southeast of Liberia, and Ganta, on the northern frontier with Guinea. According to Reuters, some of the Muslim youths were armed with AK-47 rifles.

Reporters from the Monrovian newspaper, The Analyst, attempted to drive into Paynesvilles late on Thursday night (28 Oct) in order to find the cause of the violence. They describe the Paynesville region as "a no go zone with the northern entry route to the city cut off effectively by marauding bands of angry youths brandishing sticks and other crude weapons and vowing to kill anyone believed to be supporting their enemies". At one point, the Nigerian peacekeepers ahead of them are surrounded by "a large group of the thugs, believed to be Muslim youths chanting, 'Allah Akbar' meaning God is Great. They chanted the same slogans at UNMIL, saying 'Y'all think we are stupid? We will die tonight. Eh, they burnt our mosque? We will burn all the churches too'." (Link 2)

The youths then attacked the vehicle belonging to The Analyst reporters, smashing its windows. Eventually the reporters fled for their lives, noting that many building were in flames.

The National Muslim Council of Liberia condemned the violence as "barbaric and unacceptable". The Council also noted however, "An attack on the Mandingos would be inimical to peace in the country because such attack could be interpreted as an attack on all Muslims in the country, adding that Mandingos in Liberia are not just 'co-terminal to Muslims, but also inseparable, particularly as Mandingos are one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Community of Liberia'." (Link 3)

According to The News, Monrovia, at least two people were reportedly hacked to death on Sunday (31 Oct) while en route for church services in the Jacob Town, Paynesville and Doe community areas where much of the rioting occurred.

CASUALTIES AND ARRESTS

The casualty figure stands at 16 people dead and 208 injured, of whom 47 are critical (UNMIL 1 Nov). UNMIL also reports that some 250 males have been arrested. Interestingly, around 200 of these are reported to be "non English-speaking foreigners".

Witnesses told IRIN that UN peacekeepers arrested some 80 people from the home of Philip Kamara, a former senior commander within LURD, and confiscated rifles and petrol bombs.

UNMIL spokesman James Boynton comments: "There are factions of LURD that, we believe, don't want to see an end to DDRR." (DDRR - Demobilization, Disarmament Rehabilitation and Reintegration.)

Liberia's Head of State, Interim Chairman Gyude Bryant, believes the violence was planned and orchestrated. Several individuals, arrested in connection to the riots, have already been charged with orchestrating "Terroristic Threats".

PROVOCATEURS THREATEN RELIGIOUS HARMONY

The editorial in The Analyst on 1 November comments, "Those involved in the plot against the Liberian people seemed determined to project themselves as the patriarchs and heralds of religious renaissance in Liberia when the fact, and their true intention, is that they want to protect their shady deeds and ill-gotten wealth. 'What we're seeing is the death throes of the [old] regime,' UN envoy Jacques Klein told the BBC. 'In the old days they used tribal differences which don't seem to be working now so now they've hit on religious differences'." (Link 4)

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) LIBERIA: Religious riots erupt in Monrovia, curfew imposed
MONROVIA, 29 Oct 2004 (IRIN)
http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=43935

2) Churches, Mosques in Flames!
The Analyst (Monrovia), 1 November 2004
http://allafrica.com/stories/200411010963.html

3) Muslim Council Condemns Violence
The Analyst (Monrovia), 1 November 2004
By Bill K. Jarkloh
http://allafrica.com/stories/200411010962.html

4) An Unmistakable Telltale Sign
The Analyst (Monrovia)
EDITORIAL, 1 November 2004
http://allafrica.com/stories/200411010960.html