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Western Press Review: Crises In Kosovo And Iraq, Yeltsin's Health Cause Anxiety

  • Joel Blocker
  • Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 20 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary continues to assess the situation in Kosovo after the alleged mass killings of some 45 ethnic Albanians in the province late last week. There is also some comment on Western policy toward Iraq and Russian President Boris Yeltsin's latest illness.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Beyond diplomacy lies force...

The Los Angeles Times says in an editorial: "The crisis in Kosovo spirals upward almost daily, with threats, diplomatic abuse, renewed shelling and the discovery of the frozen corpses of 45 men, three women and a boy in a gully outside a mountain village Racak. There can be nothing but shame in such bloodletting, certainly no victory," the paper says.

The editorial goes on: "Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has never appeared so isolated as now....[He] insists on shrouding the awful events in Kosovo. Obviously, he has something to hide. There also is little doubt that the ethnic Albanian majority in the... province has committed its share of violence in a continuing struggle for autonomy -- if not independence -- within the Yugoslav federation. That leaves few options for the U.S. and its European allies in NATO. They know the difficulties of dealing with Milosevic. Any proposed political deal that would diminish his hold in Kosovo is so far a non-starter."

So, the paper says, "beyond diplomacy lies force....[But] the commitment of NATO land forces, including Americans, to try to resolve yet another Balkan crisis should be rejected....NATO air forces, however, remain a trump card that can be played to force a point. European members of NATO have made clear that if U.S. forces decline to join offensive action, they will too. This," the paper concludes, "leaves little chance of resolving the Kosovo crisis any time soon."

NEW YORK TIMES: The more intractable problem is Milosevic

The New York Times today also favors the eventual use of air strikes against Serbia. The paper's editorial says: "NATO should give Milosevic a short deadline to comply with all his promises, including a pullout of his forces [from Kosovo] and full cooperation with international monitors, humanitarian agencies and the war-crimes tribunal. If he refuses, it should pull out the monitoring force and bomb selected Serbian military targets. If, as has been his habit, he promises compliance but then reneges, NATO must immediately resume the threat."

The editorial continues: "The bombing must be coupled with a warning to the ethnic Albanians that the West's goal is to protect civilians, not help the guerrillas win. NATO troops may be needed on the Albanian border with Kosovo to stop arms smuggling to the guerrillas."

The NYT sums up: "Decisive NATO action should also prod Milosevic into negotiating an end to the conflict. The American diplomat Christopher Hill offers the right solution: a return to the autonomy Kosovo enjoyed before Milosevic took over. While the ethnic Albanians want independence, they might accept autonomy within Yugoslavia that left open the possibility of independence later." But the paper admits: "The more intractable problem is Milosevic, who has no interest in peace as long as the war helps rally the nationalism that keeps him in power."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The situation in Kosovo now looks even more confused than it did last October

Peter Muench in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung asks: "How can the guilty be brought to account? The terrible pictures of 45 massacred Albanians from the village of Racak in southern Kosovo are crying out for an answer."

His commentary goes on: "In a knee-jerk reaction, the NATO council met, the United Nations Security Council advised, and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] assembled. They produced some so-called resolutions in great consternation and the two NATO generals, Klaus Naumann and Wesley Clark, made their way to Belgrade with a 'last warning' for Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic." "And then what?" Muench asks. He answers: "Then [NATO] will show that the West has no answer to the decisive question: what can it do to really help bring this war in Europe to an end? In fact, it had already found the answer to this earlier and broadcast it loudly: Serb aggression will be penalized by NATO air strikes, it said."

But, the commentary adds, if some "430 planes are at the ready to bombard Serb army bases....NATO is still on the ground -- and that is where it is going to stay. The reason: Although plans and targets have long been prepared, the political aim of the attacks has become increasingly unclear in recent months. The complicated situation in Kosovo now looks even more confused than it did last October [when a cease-fire went into effect]."

USA TODAY: There's no chance Milosovic will comply if NATO continues rattling its saber aimlessly

The U.S. national daily USA Today yesterday wrote of the "Kosovo Quandary." Its editorial said: "Slobodan Milosevic...has now left the U.S. and NATO a clear choice: They can bluster and settle for meaningless promises -- standard operating procedure for both sides. Or they can make demands, backed by a credible threat of force, that Milosevic act immediately to reverse the tide of events. Failure to take the latter course, which many in NATO resist, risks escalating the Kosovo conflict into a Bosnia-scale massacre and causing it to boil right out of its Yugoslav pot.

The editorial went on: "NATO should demand that Milosevic immediately end his interference and bring to justice the perpetrators of the Racak massacre. But there's no chance he will comply if NATO continues rattling its saber aimlessly."

It added: "Some 3,400 sorties of NATO's operation Deliberate Force were needed before Milosevic negotiated peace in Bosnia a few years ago. Compelling Milosevic to back down just when he's warming up [in Kosovo] is likely to take far more than verbal condemnation. It's time to extract from Milosevic something more than promises. If words don't do it, extract with hardware that he understands."

AFTENPOSTEN: The principles of international law are clearly on a collision course

Political commentator Kjell Dragnes writes in the Norwegian daily Aftenposten today: "There is a lot of tough talk, but the international community has still stopped short of intervening in the sovereign state of Yugoslavia. The reasons for this are many. One is that there are many different views in the UN about how conflicts like that in Kosovo should be solved."

The commentary goes on: "Some favor intervention, others want to have all diplomatic means exhausted before a resort to force, while yet others express a clear 'no' to any form of the use of force. All of these points of view have some justification....[The various] principles of international law are clearly on a collision course."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: A possible NATO military response would be an invasion

In Denmark Frederik Harhoff, a prominent juridical expert, says in Berlingske Tidende today: "Although...Slobodan Milosevic has broken all the promises he made [in October], and has also trampled on all the rules of [internationally acceptable] behavior in Kosovo, a possible NATO military response would, legally speaking, be an invasion."

The commentator explains: "Milosevic has side-stepped all the rules and commitments. We have seen new attacks on civilians, we have seen a de facto negation of all the UN principles prohibiting the terrorization of innocent people and urging cooperation in identifying war criminals. The [October] agreement about the OSCE monitors has also been discarded."

Harhoff concludes: "Still, there is no legal basis for the granting of an UN mandate to use international forces in Kosovo. If NATO does strike without such a mandate, the Alliance should make crystal-clear its conditions and purposes, as well as the new rules of the game in Kosovo."

NEW YORK TIMES: The Clinton administration says it has decided to focus its energy now on producing the ouster of Saddam

Two commentators in the New York Times discuss U.S. policy toward Iraq. The paper's foreign-affairs columnist, Thomas Freedman, writes: "The good news [about Washington's policy toward Baghdad] is that the Clinton administration says it has decided to focus its energy now on producing the ouster of Saddam, rather than just containing him. Almost the entire target list from the U.S. attack on Iraq three weeks ago was aimed at the generals and Republican Guards who up to now have protected Saddam."

Freedman continued: "The message on the U.S. smart bombs, which apparently killed hundreds of Saddam's palace guards, was: 'Warning: Hanging Around With Saddam Hussein Can Be Hazardous To Your Health.' The other good news," Freedman continued, is that "this tactic has rattled Saddam. There are reports that several generals have been executed in recent weeks, and Saddam himself clearly went off his rocker when he described his fellow Arab leaders as 'dwarfs' and called for their overthrow....[Also,] the U.S. air strikes, by prompting Saddam to attack his Arab brethren, have isolated him more than ever from other Arab regimes.

"Moreover," the commentary says, "the U.S. attack and the way that Saddam just curled up and took the blows have clearly upset his core supporters in the Republican Guards, and this explains why Saddam now is trying to prove he is still defending the nation, by attempting every day to shoot down a U.S. fighter jet -- an idiotic strategy because it gives the U.S. the excuse to blow apart another piece of his air defense system every day."

NEW YORK TIMES: The Clinton Administration must drop its objections to playing favorites

The second NYT commentary is by Middle Eastern analyst Reuel Marc Gerecht, who writes of the Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein. He says: "There is no denying that Saddam's enemies are disorganized. Sunnis and Shiites, as well as Kurds, Turkomans, monarchists, democrats, former military officers, Marxist and pro-Iranian Islamic fundamentalists [--all] have groups and subgroups representing their interests. Much of the opposition is in exile in Europe, Iran and the U.S."

Gerecht goes on: "The only group that can plausibly claim to represent most factions is the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella group based in London that received the bulk of U.S. aid from 1992 to 1996....The key to cracking Saddam's strength will be the national congress' appeal to Shiites, who may well constitute half of Iraq's army."

The commentary sums up: "To help bring all the factions together, the Clinton Administration...must drop its objections to playing favorites. By not clearly designating the national congress as the leader of the front against Saddam, Washington will sow dissension among the factions....Most important would be a White House statement guaranteeing air support, meaning attacks against any concentration of Saddam's military that threaten opposition forces."

DIE WELT: Yeltsin ought to step down in the interest of his people

Two German commentators today discuss Boris Yeltsin's most recent illness, said to be a bleeding stomach ulcer, which has forced the Russian President back to hospital. In Die Welt, Karl-Ludwig Guensche says that "the health of a country's leaders inevitably leads to [the] question: Might the illness limit their fitness to do their job? With U.S. presidents, any ailment can quickly assume the proportion of an affair of state. That makes it all the more alarming," he adds, "to see how indifferently both international opinion and the Russian public have reacted to the slow death of Russian President Boris Yeltsin."

Guensche goes on: "It is a matter of international courtesy for state visitors who see the ailing president to exercise restraint in their comments. But for Russian media to poke fun at their President's slow decline is an instance of how ineptly democratic institutions such as the free press still operate there."

He also says: "With each new bit of information that emerges from the Kremlin, it is clear that Yeltsin has long since ceased to be able to conduct the affairs of state in a fitting manner. At times, it is said, he is in a kind of dozing state from which he suddenly awakes, only to make what are all too frequently irrational decisions.....Yeltsin," Guensche concludes, "ought to step down in the interest of his people and out of a sense of responsibility."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: What is needed now is a firm hand

Tomas Avenarius wrote in yesterday's Sueddeutsche Zeitung: "The news from...Yeltsin's bedside is not as bad as everyone expected. His personal physician says he is suffering from a bleeding stomach ulcer that does not require surgery....A few weeks in bed and Yeltsin will bounce back in top shape."

"Really?" Avenarius asks. "As long as the [Kremlin] can manage to persuade people that Yeltsin's 'ailments' are only temporary in nature, [it] can avoid the question of moving the presidential election forward. Potential candidates in the wings are getting ever louder, but if Yeltsin decides to keep soldiering on, there is presumably no chance of an election before the scheduled date next year."

The commentary adds: "It is difficult to say whether Yeltsin, 67 [years old], is desperately clinging to power, or whether others are using him as a puppet. But the advantages of a change in power are obvious: Russia is in a deep economic crisis, the Caucusus region is threatening to boil over, and Moscow has shown little political success over Iraq and Kosovo. What is needed now is a firm hand, although this can hardly be expected from Yeltsin, even if his ulcer does heal over in time."