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Western Press Review: Combat Fatigue Takes Toll Among Commentators

  • Don Hill
  • Dora Slaba



Prague, 6 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The exhausting quality of prolonged warfare isn't only a hazard for the military. In its recent commentary, the Western press also reveals growing weariness.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: There is no moral equivalence between the aggressor and the victim

Internationally known and respected CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour writes in an essay published in the International Herald Tribune about news reporting problems especially posed by the conflict over Kosovo -- trying to maintain impartiality in the midst of repression, censorship and horror.

She writes: "A fundamental problem of covering the war concerns objectivity. I have learned that 'objective' does not mean 'neutral.' The sometimes obsessive desire to accord equal weight to two sides is often wrong. There is no moral equivalence between the aggressor and the victim. Objectivity means trying to give all sides a hearing. It does not, in my view, mean treating all sides as equal."

She continues: "At the Kosovo-Albanian border, watching what was happening, seeing babies, the old and the sick being forced to march out of their country, and listening to the stories, I reported the tragedy. The second difficulty when covering war, especially in places such as Serbia, which is a dictatorship and has state-controlled media, is censorship."

Amanpour says: "Consider the way some Western news organizations covered Arkan, who has been indicted by the war crimes tribunal at The Hague. He was either sought out or offered himself up for interviews. He is a legitimate news story. But if one is going to give a man like that airtime, in my view, one is obliged to challenge him (to face him with knowledge and information). Anyone indicted for the most grave of crimes against humanity is not a talk show guest."

The CNN war correspondent concludes: "What price access? How (does one) maintain objectivity without forcing equality on an unequal situation. How (does one) get around censorship? How (does one) keep honor and credibility (and) access?"

WASHINGTON POST: Milosevic may be getting away with war crimes

Columnist George F. Will expresses revulsion in The Washington Post at the notion that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will go unpunished. He writes: "It is deeply demoralizing, and perhaps even de-moralizing, for civilized people to watch justice traduced. In recent years Americans have been mesmerized by the extremely public spectacles of O. J. Simpson essentially getting away with murder and Bill Clinton essentially getting away with perjury and obstruction of justice. Now Milosevic may be getting away with war crimes on a scale not seen in Europe since the Third Reich collapsed 54 years ago this week."

ALGEMEEN DAGBLAD: The Kosovars must be able to return to their homes

The Dutch Algemeen Dagblad takes an uncompromising editorial stand: "The people who have been expelled from Kosovo must be able to return to their homes. They must be protected by a well-equipped army (and) lightly armed U.N. troops would be a misfortune. The Serbian military must not be permitted to play a future role in Kosovo (and) Milosevic's role in the Balkans must be terminated. He belongs before the tribunal in The Hague. When peace is established in the Balkans then Serbia can again take its place too, but only a clean and practically unarmed Serbia."

OBEROESTEREICHISCHES NACHRICHTEN: Almost always ethnic cleansing has proven to be final

But Austria's Oberoestereichische Nachrichten says in an editorial that it is already too late for the Kosovar Albanians:

"Even if those pulling the strings and those striving for a solution to the tragedy succeed in removing Slobodan Milosevic, which is at present highly unlikely, it is still naive to believe in a general return of the refugees to their razed homes. The ethnic cleansing which has always existed in history has been, with almost no exceptions, final."

REPUBBLICA: Clinton wants to prove he has a clear vision

Repubblica, Rome, says that U.S. President Bill Clinton's European trip had a partly domestic message: "The political scene in America is confused and insecure. The Senate is split and has rejected a proposal put forward by the Republican hawk John McCain (a proposal opposed by Clinton, himself). In the given situation, Clinton wants to prove to Congress, the country, NATO and to a certain extent to himself that he has a clear vision and a project that promises success."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: So far little of substance has been reported from Belgrade

From Copenhagen, Berlingske Tidende urges the West to settle in for a longer campaign: "Although (Viktor) Chernomyrdin, the special Russian envoy for Kosovo, is working hard to establish diplomatic contacts between NATO and Yugoslavia, one should have the wisdom to come to terms with a long-term Kosovo conflict. So far little of substance has been reported from Belgrade." The editorial continues: "As American President Clinton has so succinctly declared, three POWs were allowed to return home, but nearly one and a half million ethnic Albanians from Kosovo are still fleeing. (Until Yugoslavia allows the Kosovar Albanians to find relief), NATO air strikes must continue."

SUEDEUTSCH ZEITUNG: First Italian to be promoted to a senior military officer position in the Alliance

Writers in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Die Welt examine a switch in NATO military leadership. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Klaus Brill sets the scene: "In the midst of a Balkan war, (Italian Admiral Guido Venturoni) is taking over the chairmanship of the NATO military committee from General Klaus Dieter Naumann of Germany. For three years, he will be the senior officer in the North Atlantic pact. (In) the 50 years of NATO's history Guido Venturoni is the first Italian to be promoted to senior military officer in the alliance. For him personally, this is the culmination of a varied career.

DIE WELT: No one except the Italians is pleased about the change in NATO command

In Die Welt, Andreas Middel comments: "No one except the Italians is pleased about this change of command in the middle of the current crisis." The writer says: "Officials say bringing a new commander at such an inopportune time -- in the middle of a war -- could mean strategic planning difficulties. In the view of some other NATO countries, Italy is a less than fully reliable ally in the Balkan action, its commitment to the attack on Yugoslavia only lukewarm."

DIE WELT: The Yugoslav military remains essentially unbroken

Two other German commentators, Thomas Kirchner in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Boris Kalnoky in Die Welt, take a jaundiced view of the West's progress. Kalnoky writes: "Six weeks after the beginning of NATO's aerial attack, the Yugoslav military remains essentially unbroken. NATO bombs and missiles have severely damaged the country's infrastructure, but the Yugoslav army still has the use of most of its heavy weaponry and can still range across Kosovo as freely as before, subject of course to the deployments of Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Instead of sowing fear and terror, Apaches blow up by themselves during training

Kirchner focuses even more specifically on what he calls a NATO farce. He writes: "Non-deployment of the tank-busting Apache, vaunted by the Pentagon as the 'world's best and deadliest helicopter,' is rapidly turning into a farce. Weeks have passed since NATO commander General Wesley Clark requested two dozen of the low-flying Apaches. (Then) the Apaches took almost four weeks to arrive in Albania after Clark requested them. Transferring them there meant moving thousands of tonnes of material and more than 5,000 US soldiers to the Balkans to support and protect them.

"(And then), nearly two weeks ago, Clark announced that the deployment of the Apaches was imminent -- but the American administration dragged its feet, fearing the weakened but still capable Yugoslavian air defenses. (And now) the AH-64s reportedly are ready for action. Their effectiveness as a credible threat to the Serbs has already been badly damaged, though: instead of sowing fear and terror, they blow up by themselves during training."

INDEPENDENT: Pressure is mounting on all participants

A more hopeful columnist, Rupert Cornwell in the Independent, London, claims to spy signs of progress, however faint. Cornwell writes: "Pressure is mounting on all participants. The West bears pressures of time and public opinion, as it wonders how to bring an end to a war conceived of the noblest humanitarian motives but whose conduct has thus far been a series of strategic errors. But Mr. Milosevic, too, is under pressure not betrayed in the almost uncanny serenity of his public appearances -- intense diplomatic contacts between Russia and Western powers which could lead to a deal ratified in the U.N. Security Council and, as such, be impossible for him to resist whether he approved it or not."

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