Prague, 12 August 1998 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentary today ranges around the globe. Editorials and comments assess the latest events in Serbia's embattled Kosovo province, in Afghanistan, in Africa and in Europe.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: European bodies sit by while Kosovo Albanians suffer
The U.S. International Herald Tribune, published in Paris, carries two strong commentaries on Kosovo today. One is by Leni Fischer, the German Bundestag member who is president of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly. Fischer begins by asking: "Where is the conscience of Europe as regards two million ethnic Albanians in Kosovo...now on the brink of a humanitarian disaster?" Her answer starts with three more questions --and answers: "In Brussels? The recent European Union/Contact Group mission has failed to make an impact on Belgrade's mode of 'restoring public order.' In the Hague? Governments have signally failed to force Belgrade to transfer war criminal indictees from previous ethnic cleansing operations. In Strasbourg? Representatives of 40 governments and national parliaments have so far politely analyzed Belgrade's application last March to join Europe's flagship organization, the Council of Europe."
Her commentary goes on to pose still another question: "What kind of European conscience is it that can countenance relations with the unholy alliance of opportunistic ex-communist and radical ultra-nationalists who form the Government of Serbia and dominate politics, over which Milosevic continues to preside but which he perhaps no longer controls?" Fischer then calls for "an immediate and massive upscaling of humanitarian aid for the stricken civilian population of Kosovo --if necessary, as in Bosnia, through logistics imposed by NATO...." She also calls for "an international conference on the Serbian Constitution of 1990 (which ended provincial autonomy) and its impact...on the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo." She explains: "The Kosovo Albanians have gained the right to some form of political settlement outside the frame of the current Serbian constitution."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Open letter to Clinton calls for immediate humanitarian aid
The second IHT commentary on Kosovo is excerpted from an open letter to President Bill Clinton signed by Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group and 27 other humanitarian organizations. They write: "Unarmed civilians are systematically targeted by a (Serbian) campaign of indiscriminate attacks and atrocities, as they were just three short years ago in Bosnia. Our partners in Kosovo and the region are pleading for direct access, protection and resources to meet the basic needs of the besieged, displaced and attacked civilian population, already close to a million people, Thousands of civilians, overwhelmingly women, children and elderly, are being forcibly expelled from their villages and towns every day." The letter goes to say: "Serbian para-militaries and soldiers are burning food stocks and crops and killing livestock. Snipers fire on civilians attempting to harvest their wheat crops. Belgrade has imposed strict food controls on Kosovo...allowing only state stores, run by ethnic Serbs, to buy and sell food staples"
The open letter concludes: "The international community cannot wait for a cease-fire or political solution to the war in Kosovo before taking necessary action to address this immediate humanitarian disaster. The lives of the mass of unarmed, defenseless people are at stake in Kosovo, just as they were in alarmingly similar circumstances in Bosnia."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Western leaders full of empty rhetoric
Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also comments on Kosovo today. In an editorial, the paper writes: "Perhaps one day someone will ask Western politicians why they were not embarrassed to talk as they did during the summer of 1998 about the Serbian war in Kosovo. The most important elements are (1) that the Americans, Russians and Europeans act together --even though Russia obviously doesn't even think of removing its protecting hand from the Serbs; (2) that Milosevic must be deterred militarily in a convincing manner --which hasn't happened at all; (3) that Milosevic agree to (the Wests) plan for Kosovo because he has already achieved his military goals, further strengthening his will to continue the war." The FAZ adds: "So long as the responsible Western leaders refuse to take any genuine action, they should at least curb their earnest-sounding rhetoric --but unfortunately none will keep quiet."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Taliban owes success to support from Pakistan
Moving on to Afghanistan, two papers today comment on the apparent victory of the Taliban Muslim militia forces over rival armed groups in the country's northern region. In Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Tomas Avenarius says that the Taliban "are actually under the control of (neighboring) Pakistan." He writes in a commentary: "Few political and military groups have triggered so much world-wide hostility and rejection in recent years as Afghanistan's Taliban....They have forced Afghan women to stay at home, forced Afghan men to say prayers at the mosque and are trampling human rights under foot. Yet the armed Koran students...have conquered almost the entire country in four years and begun to put into practice throughout the country their views on what shape an Islamic theocracy should take."
Then Avenarius asks: "How is it that the barefoot warriors from the Koran schools have been so successful? Political observers say they owe their success mainly to military assistance from neighboring Pakistan, which sees Afghanistan as a strategic hinterland in its conflict with India. What is more," he adds, "a struggle for control over central Asian commodity resources has erupted since the collapse of the Soviet Union. There are petroleum and natural gas deposits in the former Soviet republics on the Caspian Sea and in Central Asia, and U.S. and European oil companies are keen to exploit them."
The commentary concludes: "Pakistan's calculation is self-evident. If oil and gas are piped through Afghanistan they will be shipped from an oil terminal in Pakistan. Islamabad would then have both a strategic hinterland and a share in the oil business."
GLOBE AND MAIL: Talibans rules are life-threatening
In Canada's Globe and Mail daily today, columnist Marcus Gee warns that a Taliban victory is likely to lead to what he calls "a grim kind or order." Gee writes: "From the beginning, the Taliban imposed a strict version of traditional Islamic law. Attendance at the mosques became mandatory....All men are expected to wear beards at least as long as a clenched fist held under the chin.." His commentary continues: "The rules are sternest for women. Houses in public view must have windows painted over if women are inside. Women cannot attend school, work outside the home except in the health-care profession, or leave their houses unless accompanied by a husband, father, brother, or son. In public they must always bear the burka, a shroud-like head-to-toe garment that leaves only a slit...for breathing....These rules," Gee adds, "are not just inconvenient for women; they are life threatening."
WASHINGTON POST: After bombings, US needs to review its counter-terrorism policy
The Washington Post yesterday commented again on Friday's bloody bomb attacks against U.S. embassies in East Africa. In an editorial, the paper wrote: "That the American government was unprepared for this tragedy is apparent. The two locales were not commonly thought of as the stalking ground of terrorists, and the American facilities there had not gotten the full security upgrades of places considered more at risk. But this may have been due...to an understandable decision to concentrate scarce budget resources elsewhere. The terrorists probed at a weak spot." The paper continued: "Whether scarce intelligence resources also were diverted from Kenya is another question. The consensus is that the range of new post-Cold War threats topped by terrorism requires a keener focus on 'human intelligence' --spies-- as against expensive cameras and microphones in the sky. But reliable spies of this sort are not easy to come by. It seems Americans have now been jarred into a thorough-going counter-terrorism policy review on both the budget and intelligence sides. That's as it should be."
The paper went on: "The Clinton Administration promises 'appropriate action' against those who did the deeds --if authorities can get the 'facts straight' about them. This self-imposed evidentiary standard unquestionably makes investigation and intelligence-gathering more demanding. But the burden is essential under the American system. It should be accepted as long as it does not become an excuse for timidity or for a diminution of will. The architects of these appalling killings must be brought to account."
NEW YORK TIMES: German Chancellor candidate not likely to implement economic reforms
Two newspaper focus on European developments. The New York Times today assesses Gerhard Schroeder, the German Social Democrat leader challenging conservative Chancellor Helmut Kohl in elections due late next month. The paper's editorial says that Schroeder, who met with President Clinton and other high U.S. officials during a visit to Washington last week, was "trying to assure Germany that strong ties to America will continue. Schroeder is reinforcing parallels with a politician he admires. He paints himself as a tough and energetic reformer running against a stodgy incumbent." But the editorial goes on: "The comparison of himself to Clinton is misleading. Germany has rejected the kinds of economic reforms now taken as gospel in Britain and America. The generosity of the German welfare state sometimes verges on parody. But Germans strongly believe society should take care of all its members. Even after 16 years of the conservative Kohl, benefit deductions average 42 percent of workers' salaries, a record. Employers have won more flexible work hours, but labor costs remain among Europe's highest." The paper concludes: "At 54, Schroeder may be relatively young and energetic, but he is unlikely to depart from the German consensus. With unemployment at 10.7 percent, slightly down from a postwar high, Schroeder's main issue is job creation. But his ideas are vague and contradictory."
JOURNAL OF COMMERCE: Austrias EU presidency gives it a chance to make its mark
In yesterday's Journal of Commerce, the U.S. financial daily assessed Austria's prospects as it holds, for the first time, the European Union's rotating six-month presidency. The Paper wrote: "Austria has a chance to make its mark during its maiden presidency of the EU, which extends until the end of the year. The opportunity arises from a most unlikely source: an anti-dumping case involving unbleached cotton fabric imports from five Asian nations. This issue has deeply divided the EU's 15 governments and called into question a key plank of the bloc's trade policy. Austria has unexpectedly moved to center stage because it is expected to hold the swing vote when EU governments decide on the issue in October." The paper explains: "EU countries will be asked to vote on a proposal from the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, to extend for five years temporary anti-dumping duties averaging 12 percent imposed in April on imports from China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Pakistan. The commission is also calling for a new minimum price system for companies exporting to the EU. A majority of eight countries marshaled by Britain and Germany was against the commission's proposal. But the free-trade alliance is now in a minority because Austria switched sides after the commission acceded to its demand to take Turkey off the dumping list."
The editorial concludes: "There will not be an instant political payback for Austria if it switches sides again. But in time, Vienna will win plaudits for playing a key role in a decisive battle against protectionism in the EU. The alternative is a lackluster six-month EU presidency..."