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Western Press Review: Kosovo, Avalanches, Ocalan

  • Jolyon Naegele

Prague, 25 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The fate of the Kosovo peace talks, deadly avalanches in the Alps, and Turkish-Greek tensions in the wake of the Ocalan affair are the focus of numerous press commentaries and editorials today.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The peace talks did not produce a black or white outcome

The Financial Times comments on the Kosovo peace talks: "Those who looked to the Rambouillet conference on Kosovo to produce a black or white outcome were bound to be disappointed, even though it is precisely what Western governments led them to expect."

The paper continues: "Rambouillet did produce an advance on the political shape of the Kosovo self-government, though it left to the next round of talks in mid-March the task of [reaching agreement on] this, and much more on military peacekeeping, [for] a signed peace pact. The result is far less than international mediators hoped. But it marks some progress on the situation a month ago.... But this could unravel, as each delegation goes home to face their constituencies, which both contain rejectionists."

The Financial Times concludes "one of the main tasks facing western mediators before negotiations resume is to draw Russia further into NATO-led peacekeeping arrangements. Robin Cook, the [British] foreign secretary, should focus on this when he visits Moscow next week. For their part, the [Kosovar] Albanian negotiators must face down the rejectionists in their camp, mindful of what might happen to them if the outside world walked away from their problem. Finally pressure must be maintained on the Serbs, whose behavior caused this crisis."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: There are three reasons to believe a bombing campaign could succeed

The Wall Street Journal Europe runs a commentary by Christopher Bennett in which he discusses the threat of NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia if Belgrade were to block a peace plan at the Rambouillet talks. Bennett says: "making war against one side in an ethnic conflict does not sound like much of a strategy to build peace.... bombing the Serbs would, on the face of it, appear like intervention on behalf of Yugoslavia's Albanian minority. Indeed, if air strikes were about taking sides, the policy would be mistaken. However, they are not. They are simply a means to an end, and the end in this case is the deployment of a NATO-led force in Kosovo to prevent further fighting and protect the long-term interests of both communities living there."

Bennett continues: "there are three reasons to believe a bombing campaign, followed by the introduction of a NATO-led ground force could succeed where other routes have failed: First, [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic's track record; second, the extent of the preparations already underway; and third, the Bosnian experience."

"Air strikes should not be aimed against Serbs, but against the vile rule of the man who is personally responsible both for their woes and those of the entire region." Bennett concludes: "If the Kosovar Albanians sign on to the agreement, failure to obtain Milosevic's signature would be no tragedy. Failure to see through the threatened air strikes would be.... Air strikes ... hold out the prospect of NATO deployment on NATO's terms. If this is the legacy of the talk process, it will have achieved a lot."

NEUE ZUERCHER ZEITUNG: The solution to the problem is simply postponed

Switzerland's Neue Zuercher Zeitung comments today "the attempt by the Balkan Contact Group to present the twice extended Kosovo negotiations in Rambouillet as a partial success is not much more than a badly concealed admission of failure. As always, when the mediators no longer know how to proceed and when the West is not united about the air strike strategy, the solution to the problem is simply postponed."

The paper continues: "The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina showed that a political agreement unless secured by a military presence is worthless. NATO's presence in Kosovo is absolutely indispensable for disarming the Kosovar-Albanian Liberation Army and for monitoring the withdrawal of the Yugoslav Army.... This is the most important prerequisite for the realization of a regulated autonomy and the establishment of political institutions as foreseen in the Contact Group plan. The question remains whether the West has not lost more credibility through its delaying tactic and de-coupling the political and military parts of the autonomy accord."

The Neue Zuercher Zeitung concludes, "Milosevic knows very well that the NATO countries are afraid of airstrikes and are thus ready for compromise. That is what he is building his strategy on."

AFTONBLADET: NATO appears in Kosovo to be a paper tiger

Sweden's Stockholm-based Aftonbladet comments along similar lines as the Swiss NZZ: "NATO appears in Kosovo to be a paper tiger with never realized threats. It is also sad that the United Nations during the entire conflict has played practically no role. The war criminals remain unpunished. Human rights are being trampled upon. The losers are above all the inhabitants of Kosovo.... It was correct to hold the Kosovo talks at Rambouillet [if only] as an attempt. However, Rambouillet, at first glance appears as some sort of new form of Munich-1938 without the signatures, as a capitulation to occupation-power and force. Milosevic has been given more time."

Aftonbladet concludes, "in the words of Czech President Vaclav Havel, 'it could be extremely dangerous for Europe to repeat the mistakes of the past.'"

LA LIBERTE DE L�EST: The mountains remain a hostile and dangerous universe with unpredictable rules

The French regional daily La Liberte de l'Est comments today on the disastrous Alpine avalanches: "a terrible and fatal winter!" it says. The Epinal-based paper writes: "the build-up of dramas that in just a few days have put the inhabitants of the Alps in mourning recalls the painful but penetrating message of mankind's past and at the same time stirs feelings of humility that are so often absent. Like the sea, the mountains remain despite all the passion one brings to them, a hostile and dangerous universe with unpredictable rules."

DIE PRESSE: Once again Austria has had to look on powerless

An editorial by Hans Werner Scheidl in the Vienna daily Die Presse today compares the aftermath of the avalanche at Galtuer in the Tyrol to last summer's fatal mine disaster at Lassing in Styria: "Once again Austria has had to look on powerless as natural forces prevent an immediate rescue operation. Back then it was the heavy rains and this time it was snowfall on Tuesday evening that prevented every rescue attempt as a life-threatening risk."

Die Presse concludes that the Austrian government's willingness to let NATO helicopters help in the current weather-related disaster is in marked contrast to just a few days ago when Chancellor Viktor Klima denied a NATO request for permission for some forces to transit neutral Austria to reach a NATO exercise ground.

MILLIYET: Turkey is upset by the EU�s attitude

The Turkish daily, Milliyet, in a commentary yesterday by Sami Kohen seeks to explain why the Turkish Foreign Ministry urged the European Union this week to bring Greece to account for the way it has supported the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Kohen writes: "Turkey is upset by the way the EU has, on the one hand, remained silent in the face of Greece's complicity with the PKK, and, on the other hand, interfered in Turkish judicial affairs. The message Turkey is giving is that this attitude will have an adverse effect on Turkey-EU relations."' "The Turkish public has been surprised by the Europeans' reactions to [PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan's] capture", Kohen says, noting that "some European politicians and the European press in general have chosen to ignore the fact that [Ocalan] is a terrorist."

Kohen continues: "Europeans, speaking almost in a single voice, have launched a campaign against the Turkish justice system that will try [Ocalan], demanding a "fair trial" as well as the presence of "foreign observers" in the courtroom. Furthermore, Europeans are demanding that Turkey find a 'political solution' to the Kurdish problem."

TURKISH DAILY NEWS: Greece is becoming the 'number-one enemy' of the Turkish state

Huseyin Bagci in a commentary today in the Ankara-based, English-language Turkish Daily News, says: "the occasional lip service paid by the Greek government to the idea that 'Turkey should become a member of the European Union' has lost any meaning, and now Greece has replaced the PKK as the leading threat to Turkey and is on the way to becoming the 'number-one enemy' of the Turkish state."

Bagci says, "Until the capture of Ocalan, Greece could deny any official accusation by Turkey that Greek government and secret service officials were involved with the PKK; this is not possible anymore."

Bagci asks: "could any other European country accept such behavior by a neighboring democratic country -- for instance France with Spain, Germany with France, Belgium with the Netherlands or now Germany with Poland? Indeed, the erosion of European and global values can be seen in this Greek behavior. This must have a certain political price for Greece."

Bagci adds, "The grounds for any possible political solution [to the dispute over Cyprus] no longer exist. The passport given to Ocalan by Greek Cypriot authorities is the most important evidence for rejecting any discussions with the Greek side."

POLITIS: Europe "is standing up to Turkey"

In contrast, the Greek Cypriot daily Politis comments that Europe "is standing up to Turkey" on Ocalan's arrest and detention. The paper notes that the European Commission for Human Rights had demanded clarification about the circumstances of Ocalan's arrest and detention and has called on the Turkish government to allow the Kurdish leader's lawyers to visit him.

PHILELEFTHEROS: Ankara wants to destroy any prospect of progress in the Cyprus talks

Another Greek Cypriot daily, Phileleftheros notes the Cypriot angle to the Ocalan affair. It reported that both Ankara and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash are using the "Ocalan card" to cultivate tension and "prepare the ground for more blackmail" with regard to Cyprus. The paper says that "By insisting that Cyprus and Greece are helping Ocalan, Ankara wants to destroy any prospect of progress in the Cyprus talks."