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Western Press Review: Ocalan's Capture And Kosovo Still Dominate

  • Don Hill

Prague, 19 February (RFE/RL) - The strange case of Kurdish faction leader Abdullah Ocalan continues to occupy many Western commentators. Others focus on Kosovo, the Russian economy, and Central Asia.

The International Herald Tribune carries a commentary by former White House aide, now New York Times columnist, William Safire. The writer urges all parties to the Ocalan affair to avoid making the Kurd faction leader a martyr. Safire writes: "With Mr. Ocalan in custody, Kurds everywhere should encourage new leadership to help the Americans overthrow Saddam [Hussein of Iraq] and help the Turks make peace with Kurds of Turkish descent. Promote Kurdishness, not Kurdistan."

He writes: "Here's what the Turks should do: Declare victory and end the Kurdish war."

Safire says: "Here is what the United States and Israel should do: Publicly hail Turkey's victory. Make plain to oil companies that the Caspian pipeline is safest through Turkey." He concludes: "Above all, Ankara, take Winston Churchill's advice. 'In war, resolution... in victory, magnanimity.'"

Much Western commentary urges Turkey to assure Ocalan a fair trial -- for Turkey's own good. The Boston Globe editorializes: "Now that Ocalan has fallen into Turkish hands, the government of Turkey's Social Democratic prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, would be wise to demonstrate that it is capable of honoring Ocalan's human rights by giving him a trial that the world can watch and adjudge to be fair."

The editorial says: "Ultimately both Turks and Kurds will have to seek and find a negotiated political solution to their conflict."

An editorial in The Guardian says: "What is essential now, during the Ocalan crisis, is that the Turks recognize that their long-term interests require symbolic integration in the West. And that, practically speaking, must mean accepting that the Ocalan trial is an object of international interest." The editorial contends: "What is needed now in Ankara is a sight of strategy, not magnanimity but a clear view of national self interest; that must lie in admitting foreign observers and ensuring full legal representation for the accused."

Commentator Wolfgang Koydl writes from Istanbul in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that Ocalan's faction is in disarray. He says: "Now that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) chief is in prison in Turkey, the sun has definitely gone down on cadres and sympathisers of the Kurdish cause. They are feeling around in the dark, trying to decide where it will go next."

Koydl continues: "Since Ocalan's arrest on Monday, the PKK has been paying the price of his total control of the organisation. Orders came, at least in a general way, directly from him; even when delivered by another PKK official, they would inevitably be attributed to Ocalan, who has the status of a god among the mass of PKK supporters."

Greece, too, is in disarray, says The Times, London. The newspaper editorializes: "Nowhere has the Ocalan affair had a more devastating impact than in Greece [which was sheltering him shortly before his capture by Turkish special forces and on whom the Kurds have centered their wrath]. It goes on: "Greece has brought this catastrophe on its own head." The Times' editorial says: "Acting on the principle of my enemy's enemy is my friend may win votes; but it makes for poor statesmanship."

In The Washington Post, commentator Stephen S. Rosenfeld urges Turkey to make peace with its Kurds. He asks: "Are Ocalan and his Marxist-oriented, blood-soaked party irredeemable as interlocutors for a sitting Turkish government that has a nationalistic bent and a dependence on an army exulting in a historic victory? Then let Ankara stop disenfranchising Kurdish parties and start listening more to those Kurds and other Turks who desire to bring their country into the Western democratic mainstream." Rosenfeld continues: "Let a political opening be provided for what the government insists is the loyal Kurdish silent majority."

He concludes: "From the position of strength Turks say they have built by their military prowess, a serious government could launch a political initiative. Turkey awaits a leader who will show his country how to move beyond vengeance into a hard-won national conciliation."

Turning to Kosovo, Robert L. Barr, head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina, worries that an idea of Lord David Owen, former international peace coordinator in Bosnia, might be taken seriously. Owen, now author of a book on his experience, reportedly offered the proposal that Serbia be compensated with a square km in Bosnia for every square km that it cedes in Kosovo.

Barr writes in the International Herald Tribune that "Lord Owen's proposal can only be considered naive and guaranteed to undermine the considerable political and financial efforts that the international community and Bosnia itself have deployed to bring peace and prosperity back to this land. Reconciliation has to be the key word here, not passion."

The IHT also carries a New York Times editorial urging that no more concessions be made to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. It says: "Two days before the deadline for a peace deal on Kosovo, American, European and Russian diplomats still were pursuing a commendable plan. It would use NATO forces, including some American peacekeepers, for the worthy cause of preserving peace. [Now] there are worrisome signs that the West might make unnecessary concessions to get the cooperation of ... Slobodan Milosevic."

The editorial concludes: "The West initally said that if Mr. Milosevic did not sign the agreement, NATO would bomb selected Serbian military targets until he did. That threat must be carried out if need be. Peace in Kosovo can work only if it is clear that NATO, and not Mr. Milosevic, is in charge."

That's a viewpoint from North America in the west. The view from Russia to the east is different, says Peter Muench, commenting in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. He writes: "A war of nerves is preceding any possible real war. The United States has made available another 51 warplanes for possible air attacks against the intransigent Serbs."

He continues: "The Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Javier Solana, announced that a military operation could begin very quickly. This view is given weight by the withdrawal of the first Western diplomats from Belgrade. This sends a clear message: time is running short. The Milosevic regime either bows to the diplomats or to the bombs."

Muench continues: "The signal has at least been picked up by the government in Russia. It is reacting in two ways. First, it is taking part in the war of nerves [by opposing a NATO role in Kosovo]. Second, it is ... making an effort to find a constructive solution."

Die Welt's commentator Jen Hartmann in Moscow looks at what he says is a remarkable economic development there. Hartmann writes: "The men who for years were seen as the true rulers of Russia are having to swallow some bitter pills at present. The oligarchs who as recently as in 1996 financed Boris Yeltsin's presidential election campaign with black money, are now facing a fiasco."

Hartmann says: "For years, the oligarchs profited from the state. They quickly grew rich through privatizations which enabled them to buy up assets at knock-down prices, and through high-interest short-term government bonds, a seemingly inexhaustible source of funds. With the bonds now worthless and having lost [thousands of millions] of dollars, [they] are up to their necks in trouble."

The writer says that these financiers haven't been able to pay the employees in their banks. He writes: "The fact that the oligarchs' powerlessless goes hand in hand with a loss of authority among ordinary people has been demonstrated by an incident in one of their Moscow banks. Employees of the bank simply unscrewed the expensive brass door-handles and walked off with them. If they weren't going to get paid, at least they were going to make up for it in kind."

The New York Times carries a commentary by Paul Goble, Communications Director for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, who says that car bombings in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, this week have illustrated the unstable nature of post-Soviet Central Asia. Goble writes: "We are seeing the fragility of regimes across the region, from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan to Kazakhstan, where political and religious crackdowns have planted new seeds of unrest."

Goble concludes: "The Tashkent bombings may indicate that the changing of the political guard in the ex-Soviet republics could be anything but peaceful, especially if [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov and the other leaders decide that force, not democratic legitimacy, is the way to maintain stability in the time they have left."