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Western Press Review: Making Peace In Kosovo, Middle East

  • Mark Baker

Prague, 28 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- With the start of Russia's deployment of peacekeepers to Kosovo over the weekend, commentators are now asking how well the Russians will work as part of a multinational peacekeeping force. In other Kosovo commentary, U.S. and German writers disagree on the usefulness of a $5 million bounty placed by the U.S. on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Editorialists also ponder whether renewed Israeli air strikes in Lebanon last week have dealt a serious blow to Middle East peace.

GUARDIAN: Russians themselves are vulnerable to attack by UCK guerillas

Jonathan Steele writes in today's Guardian that the arrival of 40 Russian peacekeepers in Pristina over the weekend, an advance detachment of about 3,600 Russians eventually to be deployed in the province, have arrived too late to reassure their fellow Slavs, the Serbs. He writes that in Belo Polje, a Serb village near Pec, Italian troops over the weekend found the body of a young Serb woman who had been raped and killed, allegedly by returning ethnic Albanians. Steele says the burning and pillaging of Serb villages is continuing.

He writes the Russians are themselves vulnerable to attack by UCK guerillas and describes a humorous moment at Pristina airport that may bode poorly for the Russians' longer term safety. The road to the airport is guarded by British Gurkhas. When the newspaper asked the Gurkhas what their job entailed, they answered [with a smile]: "We're protecting the Russians from the [UCK]."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The Russians are worse than the Serbs ...

The Wall Street Journal writes that the presence of the Russians can do little more than raise tensions in Kosovo. The paper notes that "although the war is officially over, the colliding passions which soaked Serbia's ethnic cleansing of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population continue to run loud and deep throughout the province." The paper cites several ethnic Albanians as saying attacks against Russian peacekeepers are inevitable. One ethnic Albanian in the Kosovar capital Pristina is quoted as saying: "The Russians are worse than the Serbs ... We will certainly not allow them into the city."

WASHINGTON POST: Justice should be at the very center of U.S. and NATO policy

Commentators in the United States and Germany turn their attention to a recent U.S. offer of $5 million for information leading to the capture and trial of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes. In an unsigned editorial, The Washington Post sees the reward as a welcome sign of seriousness from President Bill Clinton's administration. The Post points out that in the case of Bosnia, perpetrators of some of the most reprehensible war crimes remain at large even though, it says, NATO could arrest them if it wanted. The Post says even with the indictment of Milosevic during the NATO air campaign, Clinton has appeared less than fully committed to Milosevic's arrest. The paper quotes Clinton as saying Milosevic is presumably "beyond the reach of the extradition powers of other governments." The Post says the Tribunal is "not out for revenge and its indictments are not just a sidelight of the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo." Rather, the paper says, the Tribunal's work represents a search for justice and accountability and "that should be at the very center of U.S. and NATO policy."

HANDELSBLATT: There must also be the political will to bring tyrants to justice

German commentator Christoph Rabe, writing in the Duesseldorf-based newspaper Handelsblatt, sees the reward as something more reminiscent of the days of the Wild West, with Milosevic substituting for cowboy outlaws Billy the Kid or Wyatt Earp. Rabe says the aim of the reward is understandable, but he doubts whether any type of reward can serve as a substitute for a serious policy of dealing with dictators. Rabe says, "As a public relations stunt, [Clinton's reward offer] is not enough. There must also be the political will to bring tyrants to justice ... whether one is speaking of Yugoslavia or Iraq."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Only an independent study can sort out the errors of the bombing campaign

Frederick Bonnart, an editorial director of the military magazine 'NATO's Nations' contributes an essay to the International Herald Tribune looking at the lessons of NATO's intervention over Kosovo. Bonnart writes that three questions must now be posed: was the cost [of the intervention] justified? Did the intervention achieve its aims? And has it set Europe on the way to a better future? Unfortunately, he says, "the answer to none of these questions can be an unequivocal 'yes.'" Bonnart argues for formation of an independent body to convene and answer these questions.

Bonnart says increasing evidence is accumulating that it was NATO's actions that "unleashed the major ejection of refugees and most of the massacres." He says after the spring of 1998, armed Kosovar Albanians began sealing off roads and claiming to hold 60 percent of Kosovo. Bonnart says the Serb reaction to this was "unspeakably brutal and included cold-blooded killings," but it could not be called ethnic cleansing.

Bonnart acknowledges the prior existence of a Serb plan, "Operation Horseshoe," to eject the ethnic Albanian population from Kosovo. But he says the plan had the support of only part of the Serb political spectrum, although, he says, it probably was supported by Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. Bonnart says the position of Serbs opposed to this plan was fatally weakened by NATO's bombing, and the mass ejection of Kosovar Albanians was begun.

Bonnart says only an independent study can sort out the errors of the bombing campaign and what led up to it, and make recommendations for a needed political framework for the region.

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINED ZEITUNG: Restoring navigation on the Danube while Milosevic is in power remains problematic

The German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung turns its attention briefly to the situation on the Danube, which remains closed to navigation along its eastern half following NATO air strikes. The paper reported yesterday on a meeting of economic ministers last week in Austria of leading Danubian states and other countries in the region. The paper points out that restoring the river while Milosevic is in power remains problematic. The paper says the questions of "when ... the Danube will be navigable again and how much of the costs of the repairs will be borne by the European Union" cannot be answered as long as Milosevic stays in power.

AFTENPOSTEN: It's up to Barak now to ensure that the setback will only be temporary

In other commentary, the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten writes that prospects for peace in the Middle East were set back last week following Israeli air strikes in southern Lebanon. The strikes were conducted without the knowledge of prime minister-elect Ehud Barak. "Barak ... got a nasty surprise a few days before he was supposed to be ready with his coalition government's list. He should have been informed about the air strikes against southern Lebanon [but he wasn't]. For his part, [the outgoing Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu should have been skeptical. [He wasn't and] now he is the one to bear the responsibility."

The paper continues: "Barak has declared Israel would withdraw its forces from southern Lebanon within a year: an important development in the relations between Israel, Syria and Lebanon that had been in the deep freeze, and now with last week's strikes have become even frostier."

"Breaking promises and reneging on agreements is what directs the political culture of the Middle East. Netanyahu may not be interested in escalating tensions with Lebanon, but the airborne strikes [against it] have done just that. It's up to Barak now to ensure that the [serious] setback will only be temporary."

LE FIGARO: Israel is not willing to negotiate under the pressure of gun-wielding guerillas

The conservative French daily Le Figaro takes a different view. In an editorial, the paper says the air strikes are a warning to the governments of Lebanon and Syria not to take advantage of Israel during the transition from Netanyahu to Barak. The paper writes, "Israel believes that the time is ripe for negotiations with Syria, but it is not willing to negotiate under the pressure of gun-wielding [Hezbollah] guerillas."

(Anthony Georgieff contributed comment from the Scandinavian press.)