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Western Press Review: East Timor Draws International Commentary

  • Don Hill



Prague, 3 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- International commentary in the Western press continues to be as diffuse as the news itself. One leading issue is the chaos following this week's independence referendum in the island territory of East Timor. Three commentaries say East Timor needs an international force. One says a force should go, but not just yet; another says it should go immediately; and the third says the force should already have been in place.

GUARDIAN: There must be no ducking the issue

The Guardian, London, stands among editorial voices calling for an international peacekeeping force to halt pro-Indonesian violence. But, says The Guardian, Asian leaders should try diplomacy first. The editorial concludes with these words: "It is a problematic project, but if -- after so many years of Timorese struggle -- the alternative is another bloody civil war, there must be no ducking the issue. Not this time."

ECONOMIST: UN forces need to replace Indonesia's security forces straight away

The London financial magazine The Economist calls for international intervention, as the current (September 4) issue puts it, "Straight away." One solution, rejected by The Economist, would be to pressure Indonesia through economic sanctions. The magazine declares this: "The situation in East Timor is too urgent to hang about (until Indonesia's legislature meets). Straight away, Indonesia's security forces need to be replaced, by the UN if possible, by others if not, if the territory is not to descend into anarchy."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: A UN peacekeeping force ought to have been in East Timor long ago

In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Andreas Baenziger in Singapore concurs, but he fears that it's already too late. Here are excerpts from Baenziger's commentary:

"Indonesia has broken its international commitments, jeopardizing the democratic vote on the future of East Timor to which an overwhelming turnout has lent a high degree of credibility."

"The Indonesian armed forces took on the task of maintaining public safety before, during and after Monday's referendum. Instead, they have armed and are backing pro-Indonesian militias who are terrorizing the general public. International opinion demonstrated cowardice and negligence in letting these armed forces have the last word on East Timor's future. Talking tough to Indonesian President B. J. Habibie and Defense Minister Wiranto are no longer enough."

"What is needed is a United Nations peacekeeping force, but it would take too long to set one up now. It ought long since to have been in East Timor."

NEW YORK TIMES: We should keep our heads about us

The unfolding scandal surrounding huge sums of money in Russia is also drawing commentary, including both criticism and defense of Russian policy.

The New York Times today publishes an essay, by two commentators, that could fit under both categories. Russian economic reformer Boris Nemtsov is a former Boris Yeltsin appointee as first deputy prime minister. And Ian Bremmer is a senior fellow at the New York-based World Policy Institute. They write that politics on both sides of the Atlantic are further confusing the already labyrinthine financial mess.

As Nemtsov and Bremmer put it: "In Russia, President Boris Yeltsin's administration, through inept governance and suspected corruption, has managed to give reform a bad name. The opposition, frustrated in its efforts to break Mr. Yeltsin's power, has taken to blaming democrats (-- with a small "d," that is liberal reformers--) and their accomplices in the West for the country's many troubles."

In the United States, they write, members of the Republican Party are scrambling for ways to hurt the Democrats -- with a big "D," that is, members of President Bill Clinton's political party. So they've focused on Vice President Al Gores support for aid to Russia.

The New York Times titles the Nemtsov-Bremmer essay, "Don't Jettison Russia Just Yet." The writers conclude with this: "We should keep our heads about us. Michel Camdessus, the IMF's managing director, has stated that in its initial scrutiny of the Bank of New York case, the IMF has found no indication that (its) loan money was involved. Russia's relationship with the West is much more important than presidential politics in either country. Let's not blame the democrats for that."

WASHINGTON POST: Corruption allegations are poisoning U.S. and Russian politics

In the view of Washington Post foreign affairs analyst Jim Hoagland, the problem is not that Russian and U.S. politics are complicating the financial scandal. Rather, the corruption allegations are poisoning U.S. and Russian politics. He writes this: "Corruption has replaced cooperation as the central item on the U.S.-Russian agenda. As a result, the Clinton and Yeltsin presidencies stumble toward their final days with diminishing hopes of improving a disappointing seven years of political intimacy and strategic estrangement."

He adds, in his words: "Investigations have taken on a life of their own as the corruption reports reach a journalistic critical mass. They could poison the politics of both nations in presidential election years, whatever the final criminal outcome." Hoagland contends that critics of the U.S. administration of President Bill Clinton have more than political grounds for their disapproval. In the analysts words: "You don't need the FBI to uncover this administration's appalling misjudgments over the past two years on what -- as well as who -- would come next in Russia."

DIE WELT: There has been an inappropriate allocation of funds

Manfred Quiring writes from Moscow in the German newspaper Die Welt that Russian misappropriation of government funds has been going on in the open for a long time. Theft and embezzlement have been chronic, as well as simple inappropriate allocation of funds.

An example of the last category, he writes, is the salaries that Central Bank officers pay themselves. As Quiring describes it: "Former bank chief Sergei Dubinin drew a yearly income (equivalent to) $200,000, according to (Yuri) Boldyrev (vice-chairman of the Russian government's audit division), and the vice presidents took home $141,000 and $114,000 each. In a country that would have long since gone belly-up financially without Western aid, those are amazing figures, but as far as the salaries go, the law is on their side this time. The Central Bank, luckily enough for its officers, specifies that they themselves should determine their salaries."

WASHINGTON POST: A Turkey able to move on is in everybody's interest

Turkey's disastrous earthquake last month is still producing repercussions, as the Washington Post expresses the hope that the geological shakeup may also bring a political shakeup. An editorial in the Post puts it this way: "The shock could also loosen other long-hardened patterns -- defensiveness, deference to the military -- in light of prompt and generous help from countries, such as Greece, previously seen as hostile." The newspaper, urging all-out aid for Turkey, also says this: "A Turkey able to move on from this shock is in everybody's interest."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Demirel has an unerring, seismic sense

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Wolfgang Koydl comments from Istanbul that there's already evidence of the kind of political stirring The Washington Post refers to. Turkish President Suleyman Demirel has uncharacteristically rejected a piece of legislation adopted by the conservative parliament. The proposed amnesty legislation would have released from prison many convicted killers and scandal-stained former officials, and it had the momentum of ruling-class backing. Koydl writes that Demirel sent the legislation back probably because he has, in the German commentator's words: "an unerring, seismic sense of when tremors are imminent in Turkish society."

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