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Press Review: Trying War Crimes; Spying In The Kremlin's Shadow

  • Don Hill



Prague, May 7 (RFE/RL) - The first trial of alleged war crimes in the former Yugoslavia opens today before a U.N. International Court at The Hague, but the two best known indicted suspects remain at large. They are Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his chief military commander, General Radko Mladic. Western press commentary looks at the little man whose trial begins today and at the two prominent men for whom facing trial remains only a dim potential. Other commentary concerns reports from Russia of British diplomats apprehended for spying.

The Los Angeles Times recently looked ahead to the trial in The Hague in an analysis by Tyler Marshall. Marshall said: "For almost five years, Europeans have been haunted by horrific tales of victims caught up in the brutality of war in the Balkans. (Today), they finally will get a glimpse of the other side -- a man formally accused of such brutality, answering in court to war crimes charges.... For those involved in the tribunal's work, the proceedings involve more than putting a human face to the evils carried out in the name of ethnic superiority. For them, the trial constitutes nothing less than the beginning of a new era, one in which those responsible for committing wartime atrocities will know that they must one day answer to justice."

The British newspaper The Daily Telegraph editorializes today (F810): "It has taken more than three years since the decision to set up the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to bring the first person to trial.... The appearance in the dock of the Serb, Dusko Tadic, is a milestone in the attempt to call war criminsals to account.... If the Bosnian Serbs persist in refusing to give (Karadzic and Mladic) up, IFOR will have to seize them and deliver them for questioning to The Hague. There is no point in deploying a force of such strength unless it is prepared to use its muscle."

Chris Hedges analyzed the upcoming trial in yesterday's The New York Times. He wrote: "These trials are a shadow of those conducted five decades ago at Nuremberg and Tokyo. The commanders who ordered the killing of thousands, unlike those found responsible for genocide during World War Two, remain at large. The NATO-led military force in Bosnia, although virtually an occupying power, has steadfastly refused to arrest those indicted on charges of war crimes. And evidence often remains in the hands of those suspected of commiting the crimes.... While the acts (of which Tadic) is accused are heinous, they are trifling when compared with the organization of concentration camps or the massacre of at least 3,000 unarmed civilians last summer by the Bosnian Serbs near the town of Srebenica."

Britain's The Guardian says today in an editorial (F812): "Tadic, the 'butcher of Prijedor,' is charged with systematic brutality, including murder, rape, and torture, against Muslim civilians. He is among more than 50 individuals indicted.... (The court) is an ad hoc tribunal, set up by the (U.N.) Security Council. Defense lawyers already are arguing that it will hand down victors' justice, ignoring the dirty hands of the prosecutors.... To be credible and effective, a permanent court must be self-standing and independent."

In Great Britain, the press has seized with fascination on reports from Moscow that Russian authorities have caught an MI6 secret agent, a Russian national, in the act of spying. The London Times said today in an editorial (F801): "Russia's announcement that it is to expel a number of British diplomats for spying is a sobering reminder of what has changed since the collapse of communism and what has not. Visceral distrust still marks relations between Moscow and most Western countries.... Under the unwritten rules of the game, neither side admits to such intelligence-gathering.... A covert gentlemen's agreement now exists.... Why, therefore has President Yeltsin decided now to expel British diplomats in a blaze of publicity that is bound to anger London, risk tit-for-tat retaliations and endanger the present warm political relations? The answer lies in election politics."

Phil Reeves writes today in The Independent (F807): "If the business of spying were the same as that of making wine, then Russia and Britain yesterday were dusting off old, and not particularly pleasant, bottles from their darkest cellars.... For all the cool friendliness, there is plenty of evidence that the intelligence community has ploughed on with its work. In March, a (British) parliamentary committee warned of an increase in Russian spying.... There seems little doubt that for the British the same is true."

Russian authorities expelled Reuters correspondent Alan Philps from Moscow in 1989 in a mass spying exodus but allowed him back in 1994 as a correspondent for The Daily Telegraph. Today, he and Philip Johnston write in that newspaper (F811): "The end of the Cold War may have appeared to deprive John le Carre and other spy writers of their subject matter. But the news that Moscow has ordered the expulsion of British diplomats over their alleged links with a Russian agent working for MI6 suggests that the world of 'Smiley's People' remains well-populated.... Russia has begun to reinvigorate its spying network.... Resentment towards Britain continues because of London's strict policy of not accrediting known intelligence agents who want to work under embassy cover."

David Hearst in Moscow and Richard Norton-Taylor write today in The Guardian (F814): "Whatever else Boris Yeltsin's destruction of the Soviet Union has achieved in the last five years, one fact remains clear. It has provided a field day for Western intelligence services out to recruit informers in the once potent Russian military-industrial complex.... In today's Russia, with only six weeks to go before a pivotal election, there are powerful political reasons that the old KGB empire may be feeling the need to strike back at the level of foreign infiltration."

And in The Independent today (F806), Phil Reeves in Moscow and Colin Brown write: "Relations between Britain and Russia were thrust back into the deep freeze yesterday after Moscow claimed to have caught an MI6 secret agent red-handed, announced it was going to expel some British diplomats, and portrayed the British Embassy in Moscow as a haven for spies."
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