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Janice McLaughlin, Nun Who Exposed Abuse in Africa, Dies at 79

Sister Janice McLaughlin, an American nun who was imprisoned by the white minority government in war-torn Rhodesia for exposing atrocities against its Black citizens, then returned to help the new country of Zimbabwe establish an educational system, died on March 7 in the motherhouse of the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic, near Ossining, N.Y. She was 79.

Her religious order, of which she was president for a time, announced her death. It did not provide a cause.

Sister McLaughlin spent nearly 40 years ministering in Africa. She lived much of that time in Zimbabwe, starting in 1977, when the country was still known as Rhodesia.

She arrived in the midst of a seven-year struggle by Black nationalists to overthrow the white minority apartheid-style regime headed by Prime Minister Ian Smith, a fierce opponent of Black majority rule.

Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, a group of laymen and clergy that opposed the government, Sister McLaughlin helped expose human rights abuses across the country. These included the systematic torture of Black people in rural areas and the shooting of innocent civilians, including clergy. She also wrote about the forced resettlement of nearly 600,000 Black citizens, who had been held in heavily guarded camps in overcrowded conditions lacking proper sanitation and food.

Just three months after her arrival, she was charged with being a terrorist sympathizer and locked in solitary confinement for 18 days. She faced a penalty of seven years in prison, but the United States interceded, and she was instead deported.

Her writings had been published in obscure journals, but her imprisonment drew widespread attention; the Vatican, the United Nations and the State Department spoke out on her behalf. On the day she was thrown out of the country and walked across the tarmac to the plane that would take her out of Rhodesia, a group of about 50 Black and white Rhodesians, many of them priests and nuns, gathered at the airport, cheered her on and sang the Black nationalist anthem, “God Bless Africa.”

On the flight out, Sister McLaughlin told The New York Times that she was not a Marxist, as the Smith regime had alleged, but that she did support the guerrillas.

“I think it’s come to the point where it’s impossible to bring about change without the war,” she said, “and I support change.”

Robert Mugabe as the new president. Before he would plunge the once-wealthy nation into chaos, corruption and economic ruin, he asked for her help in rebuilding the educational system, and she readily agreed. Among other things, she established nine schools for former refugees and war veterans.

When she died, she was eulogized by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s successor.

“She chose,” he said in a statement, “to leave an otherwise quiet life of an American nun to join rough and dangerous camp life in the jungles of Mozambique, where she worked with refugees in our education department.”

Her presence, he added, “helped give the liberation struggle an enhanced international voice and reach.”

Janice McLaughlin was born on Feb. 13, 1942, in Pittsburgh to Paul and Mary (Schaub) McLaughlin and grew up there. She graduated from high school in 1960 and attended St. Mary of the Springs College in Columbus, Ohio, for a year, then entered the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation in Maryknoll, N.Y., near the Hudson River village of Ossining, north of New York City.

The order, founded in 1912, was the first American congregation of Catholic nuns dedicated to overseas missions.

told The Times in 2013. “We try to live simply with the people. As Mother Mary Joseph said to us, ‘If anybody’s going to change, it’s going to be us.’”

She worked in the Maryknoll Sisters communications office from 1964 to 1968 and organized a “war against poverty” program in Ossining. Moving to Milwaukee, she earned her bachelor’s degree in theology, anthropology and sociology from Marquette University in 1969.

Then came her dream assignment — to work in Kenya, where she ran courses in journalism for church-sponsored programs. At the same time, she studied the anticolonial struggles going on across the continent.

Much of her work in Rhodesia consisted of documenting massacres. When her office was raided by the government, two colleagues who had also been arrested were released on bail, but she was held as a dangerous communist subversive. “If I had Black skin,” she had written in her diary, “I would join ‘the boys,’” using the common term for the Black freedom fighters. She believed in the redistribution of wealth to redress past injustices.

a recent remembrance by Robert Ellsberg, publisher of Orbis Books, an imprint of the Maryknoll Order.

“I was suffering for a cause, and the pain and fear no longer mattered,” she added. “I was not alone. I was with the oppressed people, and God was there with us in our prison cells.”

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U.S. Joins Russia in Calling on Kabul, Taliban to Speed Up Power-Sharing Talks

Four countries including the U.S. called on the Afghan government and the Taliban to reduce violence and begin discussions on sharing power, in a fresh effort to end the two-decade war as a deadline for the full withdrawal of American troops draws closer.

At a peace conference hosted by Moscow on Thursday, the U.S., Russia, China and Pakistan added that they would not support the restoration of an Islamic Emirate under the Taliban, and that any peace settlement must protect the rights of all Afghans, including women and minorities.

Kabul’s chief peace envoy, Abdullah Abdullah, called for “an end to targeted killings and a comprehensive cease-fire to begin the next rounds of the talks in a peaceful environment.”

The summit took place amid intensifying international efforts to end fighting ahead of a May 1 deadline for the full withdrawal of U.S. troops. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad represented the Biden administration at the conference, which underlined foreign countries’ desire to have a hand in shaping Afghanistan’s future, from curbing the threat of Islamist militants to securing nearby borders against drug smuggling and human trafficking.

The conference is aimed at jump-starting a peace process that has stalled since launching in Qatar in September. It comes ahead of a major peace summit in Istanbul, slated for April and initiated by the Biden administration.

In Doha, Qatar, U.S. and Taliban leaders signed a deal that aims to end years of fighting. (Originally published Feb. 29, 2020)

Alongside the peace talks, violence in Afghanistan has escalated. Over the past year, the Taliban have attacked government forces across the country and seized larger parts of the countryside and vital highways. The government has accused insurgents of orchestrating an assassination campaign against government workers, civil society activists and journalists.

In February last year, the Trump administration agreed to draw down the remaining American troops in Afghanistan as part of a deal with the Taliban. President Biden has said he also intends to withdraw the remaining 2,500 troops from America’s longest war. In a television interview aired Wednesday, Mr. Biden said that even if the May deadline proved challenging to meet, it wouldn’t be extended by very much.

The U.S. and the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani concur that the Taliban hasn’t done enough to reduce violence. But the Biden administration is also butting heads with Mr. Ghani, who has refused to be replaced by an interim government hashed out a negotiation table, insisting that any new administration must be democratically elected.

“If the Taliban are ready to participate in elections tomorrow, we are ready. But without elections, I am not ready to transfer the power to my successor,” Mr. Ghani said Tuesday.

A senior Afghan government official said that if Taliban leader Maulavi Haibatullah was to attend the Istanbul conference in April, and a positive outcome was expected, Mr. Ghani would also attend.

Thursday’s summit highlighted international concerns that a collapsed peace process may escalate violence beyond Afghanistan’s borders.

Photo: russian foreign affairs ministry/Shutterstock

The Kabul delegation traveling to Moscow differed from the one in Qatar, featuring only one woman—Afghanistan’s first female governor, Habiba Sarabi—compared with four in Doha. The delegation also comprised strongmen who were excluded from Doha, including Abdul Rashid Dostum and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, both of whom were accused by rights groups of war crimes in past decades.

Russia holds little sway over either the Taliban or the Afghan government, analysts say, but the meeting shows the heightened international concerns that a collapsed peace process may escalate violence beyond Afghanistan’s borders.

Other militant groups in the country pose a threat to regional powers, including Russia. Some of the most active Islamist fighters belong to Central Asia-rooted groups such as the Islamic Movements of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Uyghur militants from the Turkistan Islamic Movement potentially threaten China. Al-Qaeda also still maintains hundreds of fighters in Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials and the United Nations.

“Americans are leaving Afghanistan sooner or later,” said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank. “In this situation, Russia can ignore Afghanistan only at its peril.”

Write to Sune Engel Rasmussen at sune.rasmussen@wsj.com and Ann M. Simmons at ann.simmons@wsj.com

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Jeffrey Epstein’s Manhattan Mansion Sold for $51 Million

Jeffrey Epstein’s Manhattan mansion has been sold to an unidentified buyer for about $51 million, which will go to a fund providing restitution for the disgraced financier’s sexual abuse victims.

A lawyer for Mr. Epstein’s estate said the seven-story mansion on East 71st Street was sold earlier this week — although for considerably less than the initial $88 million asking price.

The sale was completed after a judge in the U.S. Virgin Islands rejected an attempt by the territory’s attorney general to freeze the sale of any further asset by his estate, which is now worth about $240 million. Once valued at nearly $600 million, the estate has been paying out expenses including taxes and contributions to the restitution fund, which has distributed about $55 million to dozens of Mr. Epstein’s accusers.

The attorney general, Denise George, requested the asset freeze after the estate said a cash crunch was preventing it from providing new money to the restitution fund. The judge overseeing the administration of Mr. Epstein’s estate ruled that Ms. George did not have legal standing to request the asset freeze.

A deed for the sale has yet to be recorded, but Daniel Weiner, one of the estate’s lawyers, said in an email that funds from the sale were being transferred to the compensation program so that it could “resume issuing new claims determinations.”

Several other major transactions loom, including the sales of Mr. Epstein’s homes in Palm Beach, Fla.; Paris; and New Mexico, and the two private islands he owned in the Virgin Islands. The sale of the islands, however, will not happen anytime soon: Ms. George’s office has placed a lien on them as part of the civil racketeering lawsuit she filed last year against Mr. Epstein’s estate.

Mr. Epstein killed himself while in federal custody in August 2019, a month after his arrest on sex trafficking charges. To date, about 150 women — most of whom claim they were sexually abused by Mr. Epstein as teenagers — have registered with the restitution fund to submit claims.

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