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Western Press Review: Kosovo, Indonesia Capture Press Attention In West

  • Don Hill



Prague, 27 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A sampling of Western press commentary today examines war and diplomacy in the Serbian province of Kosovo, politics in Indonesia on the Asian subcontinent, and other issues.

DIE WELT: This conflict can only be halted by a careful and resolute reaction by the Western community

Slovenian President Milan Kucan is expected on a state visit to Germany today. In an interview ahead of the visit with the German newspaper Die Welt, Kucan discusses the conflict between Serbia's government and independence seekers in Kosovo. Kucan says: "In my opinion there is still a chance of putting out the Kosovo fire before it takes on trans-European dimensions. This requires a high degree of responsibility and unified action on the part of Western states and Slovenia too, so that the Balkans become peaceful once more and begin to lead life at European standards. A policy that attempts to ghettoize conflicts in this part of Europe cannot succeed.

"New warlike clashes in the Balkans would have catastrophic repercussions for the whole European area. Let us remember that it was in Kosovo that Yugoslavia's fate was decided, and that it is there now that the fate of the Balkans could be decided. This conflict can only be halted by a careful and resolute reaction by the Western community, as was the case with the Dayton Agreement."

WASHINGTON POST: The prime responsibility for Kosovo falls on Serbia

The Washington Post says in an editorial that, despite outside intentions, the ultimate decisions about how acute the Kosovo sore will grow lie with Serbian leader Slobodon Milosevic. The editorial says in part: "American prompting made possible a welcome first meeting between Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic and Ibrahim Rugova, president of the independence-seeking Serbian province of Kosovo."

The Post said:: "For a minute it looked as if American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, negotiator of Bosnia's peace, was on the way to dousing another Balkan fire. But last week the Serbians halted food convoys to Kosovo, and over the weekend Serbian special forces -- ostensibly in response to the shooting of Serbian police by guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Front -- applied their typically harsh and indiscriminate tactics, and razed a Muslim village in southern Kosovo."

It concluded: "The prime responsibility falls on Serbia, the regional player with most of the capability for war or peace in its hands. That means in Slobodan Milosevic's hands. The Kosovars can provoke but cannot by themselves prevail. Mr. Milosevic has the larger choice: to keep playing the nationalist card that brought his people disgrace and disappointment or to use Kosovo as a path to a larger regional reconciliation."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: A dispute is raging on the banks of the Danube

In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Michael Frank muses over a less warlike confrontation between Austria and its northern neighbor, Slovakia. The decibel level of shouting over Slovakia's impending startup of the Mochovce nuclear power plant has risen higher than rational discourse can support, Frank says. He writes: "A dispute is raging on the banks of the Danube, where Austria and neighboring Slovakia are at odds and shouting loudly in much the same way as two people who are hard of hearing tend to yell at each other."

The writer continues: "The bone of contention is Mochovce nuclear power station, about 100 km east of the border. It is a brand new power station based on an old design that is to start splitting the atom, in its maiden test run, any day now. For Austria the project has come to assume the proportions of an apocalyptic threat, and the public debate is starting to show signs of hysteria over and above the feelings of alarm that deserve to be taken seriously."

Frank writes: "Slovakia needs electric power, and despite Chernobyl it is a great believer in all forms of technological progress - just as the entire former Soviet bloc still is. That is why Slovakians, both government and people, refuse to believe there is any truth in these technical objections."

NEW YORK TIMES: Tung should demonstrate his faith in Hong Kong's autonomy

On the other side of the world, voter support for opposition democratic parties in Hong Kong draws the label "encouraging" from The New York Times. The Times says editorially: "Hong Kong's first legislative election under Chinese sovereignty was encouraging. Voter turnout on Sunday was high and a large majority of ballots were cast for candidates from democratic parties. That should be read as a powerful call to restore the democratic electoral system that was developing during the last years of British rule but was dismantled after the transfer to China last July. Hong Kong's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, should respond by expanding the number of democratically elected seats."

The newspaper concludes: "Tung should demonstrate his faith in Hong Kong's autonomy by pressing for a swift passage to fully democratic elections."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Indonesia needs to forge a new set of political arrangements

There's hope for stability, democracy and peace in Indonesia, but it will require subtlety, deftness, and vision to realize, writes Andrew MacIntyre, associate dean at the Graduate School of International Relations of the University of California, San Diego, in the Los Angeles Times. MacIntyre writes: "The collapse of Suharto's rule last week was almost inevitable. Once the economic crisis began to overwhelm his government early this year, it was just a matter of time. As Indonesia picks up the pieces, the big question is which individuals and which institutions will be able to operate effectively in the new political environment."

The commentator writes: "Anyone who is to succeed in ruling Indonesia in the near term will have to satisfy a number of key constituencies: the students, the army, foreign investors and, to a lesser extent, certain foreign governments. For now, the presidency is occupied by Suharto's deputy, B.J. Habibie. Habibie is a bright man with a vision for his country, but he has displayed no aptitude for prime-time politics."

The writer says: "Getting rid of Suharto is only the first step for Indonesia. The country needs to forge a new set of political arrangements that will give it the stability to move forward economically." He says: "Outsiders should think carefully before pressing for immediate, dramatic reform. The potential for serious splintering is real. To avoid this danger, Indonesia will need time and support as it finds its way."
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