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Western Press Review: War Crimes, Caspian Oil, Other Issues Occupy Press

By Don Hill/Lisa Kammerud/Dora Slaba

Prague, 7 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A war crimes trial in The Hague that will set precedents, a deal on the Caspian Sea that made history, and maneuverings in Kosovo that are so far indeterminate occupy Western press commentary and analysis.

NEW YORK TIMES: The judges are expected to set new definitions for genocide

In The New York Times today, Marlise Simons writes from The Hague in a news analysis that the trial of Bosnian Serb Milan Kovacevic has special significance because it will be the world's first international adjudication on a charge of genocide.

She writes: "The U.N. tribunal dealing with war crimes in the former Yugoslavia opened the trial yesterday of a Bosnian Serb charged with the crime of genocide, the first time an international trial for genocide has taken place in Europe."

She says: "Although the main leaders of the Balkan conflict are at large, the case against the Serbian doctor is seen as especially significant because the judges are expected to set new definitions for genocide, the most heinous of war crimes. It would also send an important signal to a conference now going on in Rome to set rules for a permanent international court to prosecute crimes against humanity. No conviction for genocide has ever been decided in an international tribunal."

INDEPENDENT: Pictures of conditions in the Prijedor camps shocked the world

Marcus Tanner writes in an analysis in The Independent, London, that the crimes in which Kovacevic is alleged to be implicated are particularly horrific. Tanner writes: "Television pictures of conditions in the Prijedor camps shown in July 1992 shocked the world. A memorable shot showed an emaciated, skeletal man fingering the wire fence of the camp behind which the television crew was filming." Tanner continues: "Kovacovic's function was deputy president of the Prijedor Krizni Stab (Crisis Committee), a body loyal to the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, and his ultranationalist Serb Democratic Party."

Tanner says: "Thousands of Muslims and Croats who failed to escape to Croatia as the Serbs attacked were transported to the camps. Some, usually the most prominent citizens, were executed. The unluckiest were tortured, or forced to perform inhuman acts on other prisoners."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The criminals should know that a judge is waiting for them

Commentator Josef Joffe writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the trial is "not a case of an ordinary war crime such as murder and beating to death, torture and expulsion, but 'abetting genocide'. Genocide was not even a charge in Nuremberg; this was defined by the UN in 1948 and ratified in 1951. Fifty years later Kovacevic is the first who has to answer for actions with intent to 'destroy as a whole or in part certain groups'."

Joffe says that the accused's defense that he was unaware of the crimes or that other, more important offenders were even greater criminals are "hackneyed arguments" and "only half truths."

The commentator writes: "Everyone -- small, medium or big - should know that an account will be opened and the event entered. They should know that a judge is waiting for them -- today and for ever present."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Russia has legally recognized Kazakhstan's claim to its offshore oil

In an analysis in the Financial Times, London, Charles Clover and Carlotta Gall say an agreement signed by Russia and Kazakhstan on Caspian oil is historic, but not all-encompassing. The authors write: "President Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Nursultan Nazarbayev, his Kazakhstan counterpart, yesterday signed an agreement on dividing the northern portion of the Caspian sea bed, paving the way for drilling the potentially vast oil structures in Kazakhstan's section from October.

"Yesterday marked the first time Russia has legally recognized Kazakhstan's claim to its offshore oil resources, and was the first such bilateral agreement between any states bordering the Caspian." Clover and Gall continue: "But while yesterday's agreement unlocks Kazakhstan's claim to its territorial sea bed and the oil underneath, it does contain one concession by the Kazakhs. Only the sea bed is addressed in the agreement, which specifically states that other issues such as pipelines and telephone cables will have to be governed by subsequent agreements."

LES ECHOES: When it comes to oil, politics is much more important

An editorial in the French daily Les Echoes calls the Caspian Sea oil region a new Kuwait, a reference to the oil-rich Mideast kingdom. The author writes: "The accord signed yesterday by the Russian and Kazakh presidents on the sharing of the Caspian Sea resources is going to hasten the setting of the value of this new Kuwait, rich with 13,000 to 15,000 million tons of oil which are equally accessible by Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Iran."

The editorial says: "In the event, Moscow was able to prove its flexibility in renouncing its vision of the open Caspian Sea to profit from the principal of equidistance. The editorial continues: "But the important issue remains the transport of Caspian products. To the East, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have a choice between the traditional Russian pipeline routes or Pakistan through Afghanistan. This is why Kazakhstan and Tajikistan have found it in their interests to appeal for peace in Afghanistan. To the West, Russia and Azerbaijan must calm the conflict of their neighbors in the Caucasus to export their oil across the Black Sea. (But) when it comes to oil, politics is much more important than technical and economic considerations, no matter how much sense they make."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Disputes have resurfaced with Germany's Eastern neighbors over the expellees

Elections in Germany are reawakening old issues with Germany's Eastern neighbors, Thomas Urban writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. He comments: "With a September general election looming large in Bonn, disputes have resurfaced with Germany's Eastern neighbors over the expellees: ethnic Germans and their families who were ejected at the end of World War Two from mainly German areas in what is now Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic.

"For years the Sudeten Germans have hampered rapprochement between Germans and Czechs, and in recent days the expellees have weighed heavily on political relations between Germans and Poles, which were improving by leaps and bounds. In Warsaw the Polish parliament was trenchant in its criticism of a resolution on the role of German expellees in the Europe of the future that was approved by the German Bundestag."

Urban's commentary continues: "The property debate also papers over the fundamental problem of what to do about the post-World War Two expulsion of millions of Germans from their homes in places that are now part of Poland, the Czech Republic and so on. Cautiously, the Poles -- unlike the Czechs -- have set about dealing with an issue which, historically and in the media, was taboo under communist rule."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: NATO has effectively stalemated itself

Robert E. Hunter, ambassador to NATO from 1993-1998, comments in the Los Angeles Times that NATO's promises of intervention in Kosovo do more harm than good. Hunter writes: "Allied leaders, both civilian and military, assert that 'time is running out,' that 'NATO is getting ready to act' and that Serbian belligerence in Kosovo 'will not be permitted to continue.' As of now, however, there is little chance that these pledges will be redeemed."

The commentary continues: "NATO has thus effectively (stalemated) itself, and assertions to the contrary do not impress the Serb leadership. NATO's deliberations are virtually transparent to President Slobodan Milosevic, who for years has read allied intentions accurately."