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Western Press Review: East Timor, Russian-U.S. Relations

  • Joel Blocker



Prague, 7 September 1999 (RFE/RL/) -- Western press commentators today continue to focus on the crisis in East Timor, where the killings go on despite the imposition of martial law in the territory by Jakarta. Among other subjects attracting comment are Russia's relations with the U.S. and elections last Sunday in two German states that added up to a major setback for Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

LE MONDE: This tragedy has all the makings of an 'Asian Kosovo'

An editorial on East Timor in France's Le Monde today is entitled "An Asian Kosovo." The paper says that "for the past several days, the Indonesian army --acting through pro-Indonesian militias -- has imposed a reign of terror to prevent East Timor from attaining independence [as its citizens decided in a referendum eight days ago]. The strategy seems to be orchestrated from Jakarta," the paper goes on, "with the aim of bloodying and burning the territory."

The editorial continues: "This tragedy has all the makings of an 'Asian Kosovo.' " It says the United Nations risks being paralyzed again, notably by a Chinese veto in the Security Council. The paper says it is up to the countries most directly concerned --East Timor's old colonial master, Portugal, its nearest neighbor, Australia, and perhaps the U.S., which supported Indonesian dictator Suharto for many years -- to put together an intervention force and act quickly.

Only rapid action, the paper concludes, can prevent "a new crime against humanity. Merely assembling the force," Le Monde says, "could dissuade Jakarta from pursuing its murderous policies -- as could the immediate announcement of a series of specific economic sanctions against both civilian and military Indonesian leaders."

GUARDIAN: There is no alternative to outside intervention

Britain's Guardian newspaper also believes that "there is no alternative to outside intervention." It says that "the choice for the international community is becoming increasingly stark: Either summon up the collective will to intervene with an armed, U.N.-mandated peacekeeping force, or be content to witness the throttling at birth of the world's newest democratic nation-state."

The Guardian goes on: "To protect the Timorese ... and to safeguard the current U.N. mission in [the capital] Dili, Indonesia must drop its objections to the immediate deployment of an international force. And [President B.J.] Habibie and [Defense Minister] Wiranto should consider beginning a simultaneous, phased withdrawal of their discredited and culpable army."

The paper adds: "The commonly held view onl premise: Reform will take a generation or more. ... As for corruption, we have spoken out bluntly, early and often."

Berger sums up: "Ultimately, accountability must come from the Russian people. That they now have the freedom and power to provide it, that the truth is no longer hidden from them but exposed by an energetic press, that they have broken the back of communism ... remains among the most hopeful developments of our time."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: It is now clear that Putin's optimism was unfounded

In Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung today, Moscow corespondent Thomas Urban discusses another current Russian problem, attacks by Islamic guerrillas in the southern republic of Dagestan. Urban writes that "Moscow's ... approach to Dagestan has shown new Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's optimism [to be] premature."

Urban recalls that, last week, Putin declared "that the rebellion in the southern Russian republic of Dagestan had been quashed, and that the Islamic militants from neighboring Chechnya had been annihilated." He goes on: "It is now clear that Putin's optimism was unfounded. Fighting is still continuing, and ... on Saturday, a block of flats housing Russain security because -- once again -- they did not want to offend the government."

He concludes: "The international community has been so silent about all that has happened in East Timor over the last 24 years, and so feeble, that it has a responsibility to act firmly now. ... The U.S. should act immediately to end all [aid] programs involving the Indonesian military. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are heavily involved in keeping the Indonesian economy afloat [but should withhold further help] until legitimate order is restored in East Timor."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Instead of moving forward the U.S. architects of the Bill-and-Boris partnership are busy defending their own reputations

The Washington Post recently carried two very different views of current U.S.-Russian relations in the light of recent allegations of extensive financial corruption in Moscow. Both are published in the International Herald Tribune today.

The first commentary is by the WP's foreign-affairs columnist, Jim Hoagland, who says "corruption has replaced cooperation as the central item on the U.S.-Russian agenda. As a result," he adds, "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."

The commentary continues: "Corruption investigations in New York, Switzerland and Moscow have spawned press allegations that threaten to undermine a set of high-level contacts that once promised to repair the battered strategic relationship. ... The investigations," Hoagland says, "... could poison the politics of both nations in presidential election years, whatever the final criminal outcomes."

Hoagland writes further: "Instead of moving forward on arms control, military-to-military relations and economic aid this month, the U.S. architects of the Bill-and-Boris partnership are busy defending their own reputations and trying to halt the spread of political damage from these scandals to Vice President [and probable presidential candidate] Al Gore."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Reform will take a generation or more

Defending Washington's policies toward Moscow in the same paper today, U.S. National Security Adviser Samuel Berger acknowledges that "there are indeed plenty of troubles in Russia today. But," he goes on, "they should not obscure what U.S. engagement [with Moscow] has produced." He cites as achievements the deactivation of almost 5,000 warheads in the former Soviet Union, Russia's withdrawal from Central Europe and the Baltics, its respect for Ukraine's sovereignty, and its joining U.N. peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Kosovo."

"None of this," Berger argues, "would have been possible without [U.S.] engagement. ... Our approach to Rus{~9nE۰@˧::% i{PDpN# premise: Reform will take a generation or more. ... As for corruption, we have spoken out bluntly, early and often."

Berger sums up: "Ultimately, accountability must come from the Russian people. That they now have the freedom and power to provide it, that the truth is no longer hidden from them but exposed by an energetic press, that they have broken the back of communism ... remains among the most hopeful developments of our time."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: It is now clear that Putin's optimism was unfounded

In Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung today, Moscow corespondent Thomas Urban discusses another current Russian problem, attacks by Islamic guerrillas in the southern republic of Dagestan. Urban writes that "Moscow's ... approach to Dagestan has shown new Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's optimism [to be] premature."

Urban recalls that, last week, Putin declared "that the rebellion in the southern Russian republic of Dagestan had been quashed, and that the Islamic militants from neighboring Chechnya had been annihilated." He goes on: "It is now clear that Putin's optimism was unfounded. Fighting is still continuing, and ... on Saturday, a block of flats housing Russian soldiers and their families was blown up in an attack believed to be the work of Islamic militants. The explosion claimed the lives of at least [64] people."

Urban then says: "The Russian public is horrified, and the government now has no other option than to attack with all its might. There will be no protests from the West -- the consensus there, as in Russia, is that the rebels, backed up by mercenaries and professional terrorists, threaten to destabilize the whole Caucasus region."

Much of Germany's press is busy analyzing the results of Sunday's two state (Land) elections, which almost all papers see as a blow for Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

DIE WELT: There is no alternative to radical reforms

In Die Welt, Jacques Schuster writes in a commentary that "seldom in recent years have German voters withdrawn support from one of their leading parties so radically as they [did in the votes in Saarland and Brandenburg], plunging it into deep depression. Worse still," he adds, "the Social Democrats (SPD) have yet to hit rock bottom. They are still in free-fall, and the outlook for forthcoming polls in North Rhine-Westphalia, Thuringia, Saxony and Berlin is far from encouraging."

Schuster says that "on many counts the Social Democrats have only themselves to blame. Chancellor Schroeder and his cabinet took a much too hard-nosed approach in their first months at the helm. And their style of government and leadership were too confused, leaving voters confused about where they were headed." He goes on: "For a while, no headway seemed to be being made, then government politics came to resemble an obsessive-compulsive housewife who feels that spring cleaning might somehow resolve a marital crisis. "

He sums up: "The [opposition Christian Democrat Union seems] sure to win the next state assembly elections and to make use of its power in the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament. Whether it does so to the good of the country remains to be seen. In four years' time, and maybe sooner, the CDU will probably be returned to power in Berlin. Then, however, it will discover that there is no alternative to radical reforms and that it too must embark on them -- unless, by then, it is too late to do so."

FRANKFURTER NEUE PRESSE: Gerhard Schroeder himself is to blame

According to the Frankfurter Neue Presse, the weekends disastrous results for the Social Democratic Party have one reason -- Gerhard Schroeder himself. The paper writes: "Its Schroeder, who rules using a kind of gentleman's code -- amateurish and carefree, erratic in content and messy in the execution of policy -- who is to blame."

RHEINISCHE POST: The last year has transformed Schroeder from a winner to a martyr

The Rheinische Post notes that Schroeder has lost the one thing that the SPD really liked him for -- his winner's smile. The paper says that for the "being-chancellor-of-Germany-is-fun" leader, the last year has transformed him from a winner to a martyr." The paper continues: " His SPD majority in the German Parliament has melted like butter in the late summer sun. The new leaders in the German states of Saarland and Brandenburg, along with others where the SPD majority is gone, will tear both Chancellor Schroeder and his big savings plan for Germany into tiny little pieces."

KOELNISCHER RUNDSCHAU It cant get much worse for the SPD

For the Koelnische Rundschau, it cant get much worse for the SPD than it did this weekend: '"In Saarland, the SPD lost its power and in Brandenburg it lost its majority, and if the two regional SPD prime ministers had not so vehemently opposed Schroeder's [austerity] policies, the results would have been even worse."

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