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Western Press Review: Commentary Centers On Pinochet And Milosevic

  • Elizabeth Weinstein

Prague, 22 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today continues to focus on the arrest of former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher adds her name to the growing list of critics of the arrest. Other commentary discusses the potential for peace in Kosovo. U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke explains the waiting game between NATO and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Others criticize Milosevic's crackdown on a free press in Serbia.

TIMES: Send the general home

On Pinochet, the Times of London urges British Prime Minister Tony Blair to "send the general home." The Times' editorial says Blair would be foolish to continue suggesting the matter is simply a legal one involving a bilateral extradition treaty.

Citing protests in Santiago this week, the editorial warns that Pinochet's controversial arrest has reopened Chile's wounds and could bring its military out of its barracks. The paper says Blair should "cut the Gordian knot," declare Pinochet persona non grata, and deport him back to Chile.

The Times concludes: "South Africa's reasons for creating a non-judicial truth and justice commission are understood here, as is the damage that the arrest in Britain of F.W. de Klerk, for example, would inflict on the post-apartheid settlement. Chile chose the same route. Its elected government is entitled to the same understanding response. It must be right to respect the political needs and judicial processes of democratic sovereign states. How Chile deals with General Pinochet is its affair."

The same editorial page of the Times carries a letter from former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, asking her government to release Pinochet.

Thatcher echoes the Times editorial, saying: "There were indeed abuses of human rights in Chile and acts of violence on both sides of the political divide. However, the people of Chile, through successively elected democratic governments, have determined how they should come to terms with their past. An essential part of that process has been the settlement of the status of General Pinochet and it is not for Spain, Britain or any other country to interfere in what is an internal matter for Chile."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Pinochet's judicial status should only be decided in Chile

Britain's Daily Telegraph carries a similar headline to the Times in its editorial entitled "Send Him Home." The paper says Britain and Europe are involved in "vindictive moralizing" over Pinochet and are ignoring political realities. The paper accuses the British Labor Party of moral posturing, saying that "for the European Left, the accused is the archetypal Right-wing bogeyman." It also says "The thought of his being brought to trial fills them (the Left) with delight. They would be happy to disregard the anxieties of the Chilean government in the hope of revenge."

The paper reminds the Labor party that democratic Chile has decided to live with a compromise in the hope that it can secure the final return of the military to its barracks. Pinochet's judicial status, the Telegraph argues, should only be decided in Chile.

NEW YORK TIMES: Independent groups may be the start of a solution to the Milosevic problem

Western editorials and commentary today also focus on another controversial leader --Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. On Tuesday, the Serbian parliament passed a restrictive media law banning the broadcast of Serbian-language foreign programs and leveling fines on media it finds in violation of the law. The New York Times carries an editorial asking the West to support the Serbian independent journalists, radio stations, civil-rights workers and Internet sites that fall under this new legislation.

For starters, the NYT argues, U.S. and European diplomats meeting with Milosevic should also meet with independent groups. The paper says: "Kosovo talks would not suffer if such meetings were held frequently," adding that "most high-level diplomats who visit Belgrade see only Milosevic and his men." The editorial goes on: "Independent groups are not the solution to the Kosovo problem, but they may be the start of a solution to the Milosevic problem."

WASHINGTON POST: There will be no democracy in Serbia as long as Mr. Milosevic is in charge

The Washington Post today carries a commentary by Belgrade journalist Slobodan Pavlovic protesting what he calls Milosevic's "war against truth." Pavlovic says Milosevic's real hope for the new media law is to prevent objective coverage in Serbia of his negotiations with NATO. Pavlovic says that, by shutting down the media, Milosevic can conceal the fact that his recent agreement with U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke is really an ultimatum from the international community, not a victory for Serbia.

Pavlovic urges Western leaders to take care of the "Milosevic problem." He writes: "There cannot be real solutions for the problems in Kosovo and Bosnia without democracy in Serbia, and there will be no democracy as long as Mr. Milosevic is in charge. The current media darkness over Serbia confirms that sad fact."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Compliance means compliance

A commentary in today's International Herald Tribune by the U.S.'s Holbrooke criticizes Milosevic's questionable compliance with the Kosovo accord the two men reached last week. Holbrooke says that Milosevic has not made good on his end of the bargain, and that the NATO activation order for military strikes remains in effect. "Compliance means compliance," Holbrooke writes, "Mr. Milosevic can't move some troops out and other troops in --that is not compliance."

Holbrooke also attempts to explain why NATO took so long to take a stand against Milosevic. He says: "There was a theory among many of the U.S. allies that NATO action could take place only after the (UN) Security Council approved it. This allowed the Russians to delay the process. It took many weeks to overcome that obstacle, tragically lost weeks during which hundreds of thousand of people were made homeless." Holbrooke adds: "Democracies are slow to act --that is in their nature. But when they act, they are effective."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The result is a hasty deal

Finally today, a commentary by Peter Muench in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung sharply criticizes the deal Holbrooke reached with Milosevic. Calling it "toothless," Muench says international diplomats face a double task. First, he writes, they must convince the Kosovar Albanians that their interests are being seriously taken into account. Then, diplomats must continue to issue threats they're willing to carry out.

The result of the hasty deal, Muench writes, is that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) is keeping the conflict "on the boil" with the aim of forcing NATO to intervene. And, he adds, the Serbs are only too happy to accept the provocations as a reason to demonstrate their undiminished strength.