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Western Press Review: Chaos In East Timor, Russia's Problems Mount

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 9 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary continues to focus on the chaotic situation in East Timor, where reports of mass murder and destruction have led some to speak of the territory as the site of the world's next likely genocide. There is also considerable comment today on Russia's problems, ranging from more allegations of corruption reaching into the Kremlin to Moscow's growing difficulties in its southern Caucasian republics.

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Beneficiaries of seemingly enlightened polices have instead been their victims

Britain's Daily Telegraph today calls East Timor the "island of victims." The paper recalls that "nearly a quarter-of-a-century ago, East Timor was left in the lurch by its colonial master, Portugal." That, says the DT's editorial, led to the killing over the years of up to a third of the territory's 650,000 natives. Now, its adds, "tragically, history is ... repeating itself, as the United Nations evacuates its foreign staff ... leaving the population once more to the mercies of the Indonesian army and its supporters."

The paper writes further: "The main culprits are clearly the army, which has allowed the anti-independence militias to run amok. [But] that does not mean that the UN can piously wash its hands of the entire affair. ... It organized the referendum and undertook, if need be, to guide the territory toward independence. ... But there is little point to the vote if its message is brutally ignored."

The DT concludes: "Like Portugal before it, the UN can claim the best of intentions; and like the old colonial power, it is guilty of failing to think through the consequences of its actions. In both cases, the supposed beneficiaries of seemingly enlightened polices have instead been their victims."

NEW YORK TIMES: A united, powerful threat from abroad is needed to end the killings

The New York Times entitles its editorial "East Timor Under Siege." It writes: "Indonesia's military and millions of nationalists deeply resent the offer of independence, and worry that it could encourage separatist movements in other regions. What East Timor is suffering is not chaos but an organized rampage by the militias, as some of the more than 15,000 Indonesian troops there stand by and even participate. The violence is very likely being coordinated by military men in Jakarta."

The editorial continues: "Indonesia's government insists that it can solve the problem without international help, and has declared martial law. But Indonesia's military is the problem, not the solution."

The editorial also says: "Getting Jakarta's consent will require strong and immediate pressure, especially from the U.S., Australia -- which has strong ties to Indonesia's military -- and Japan, a large donor of economic aid. All three nations should announce that they are cutting off all military aid and sales. ... An international force is clearly the last resort, to be tried only if [Indonesia does] not stop the violence. But a united, powerful threat from abroad is likely needed to persuade them to end the killings."

WASHINGTON POST: Expect no serious protests or ideas

The Washington Post's foreign-affairs columnist, Jim Hoagland, writes in a commentary today: "The sickening government-inspired slaughter and destruction that have swept East Timor in recent days crystallize the reality that Asian nations and the international community are unprepared and unwilling to deal honestly with Asia as a regional and global powder keg. East Timor must be seen as a last wake-up call for the world on Indonesia's ongoing revolution and on Asia's potential to become the Balkans of the future ..."

Hoagland adds: "In Asia, regional organizations work hard to keep all eyes focused on trade and away from politics. Pushing trade as the paramount value in international relations is the raison d'etre of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. ... [But] expect no serious protests or ideas about what is happening in East Timor from that toothless organization's well-publicized annual summit in New Zealand this weekend."

He concludes: "The U.S. and the UN Security Council have dithered as the killing has intensified. 'Where is the dignity of the Security Council members?' Portuguese Ambassador Ana Gomes demanded as they put off action yet again on Monday and deferred to Indonesia's sovereign powers. In tatters, ambassador."

INFORMATION: From the very beginning the UN should have included an armed peacekeeping force

Denmark's Information daily writes in an editorial: "The UN [has] again made some tragic mistakes. The organization approved of an agreement which everyone knew was unrealizable. It agreed to organize a referendum under conditions which were neither free nor fair. Everyone had naively thought that should anything go wrong, the few hundreds of unarmed UN observers would successfully intervene."

But, says the paper, "events have shown that this is not true. From the very beginning, the participation of the UN should have included the deployment of a massive and heavily armed peacekeeping force whose chief aim should have been to prevent the chaos which has now ensued."

Several German newspapers also comment briefly on East Timor, most calling for a greater UN involvement in the territory.

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: President Habibie doesn't have the situation under control

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung doubts whether the 20,000 Indonesian troops that were sent into the territory will contribute to peace. The paper fears that "Indonesian President Habibie doesn't have the situation under control and that the expulsion of the population will continue."

ANZEIGER: Mr. Habibie needs the support of the army

The General Anzeiger, published in Bonn, believes that Habibie "will not survive politically after the people of East Timor voted in favor of independence during last week's referendum. One thing is certain," it adds, "In order to be re-elected in November, Mr. Habibie needs the support of the army."

WESTFAELISCHE NACHRICHTEN: It's hard to imagine that the Indonesian army will restore law and order

The Westfaelische Nachrichten is disappointed that Western governments didn't stop the Indonesian government. "It has been clear for a long time," the paper writes, "that Indonesia would not accept the loss of its province." Its editorial finds it hard to imagine that the Indonesian army will restore law and order "after suppressing the population of East Timor for two decades."

WASHINGTON POST: The problem of corruption should not be minimized

Turning to Russia, The Washington Post today carries an editorial on what it describes as Moscow's "shrugging off corruption." The paper writes: "What's most dispiriting about the latest spate of revelations and allegations of official corruption in Russia is the response of Russian officialdom. President Boris Yeltsin and his advisers are quick to fire activist prosecutors, and they shrug off any accusations as the product of some great anti-Russian conspiracy in the West. ... The leaders would serve their country better if they acknowledged the seriousness of the problem ..."

The paper notes that the latest allegations "touch directly" on Mr. Yeltsin. "Swiss investigators," it says, "have [reportedly] uncovered evidence that a Swiss company that won lucrative contracts to renovate Kremlin offices paid tens of thousands of dollars of credit-card bills in the names of Mr. Yeltsin and his two daughters and transferred one million dollars to a bank account intended for the president."

The editorial concludes: "It has been evident for some time that private and public officials were intermingling their duties in dishonest ways. ... The problem of corruption should not be minimized. It is corroding central institutions. It threatens the viability of an emerging market economy, spreads cynicism among a population still undecided about the merits of democracy and scares away ... foreign investment."

NEW YORK TIMES: America should butt out of their politics

New York Times columnist William Safire uses what he calls the "Kremlingate" scandal to appraise the future of Russian politics. He writes: "In Russian politics, three main forces are ... taking shape: On the left is the Communist Party, its members aging and dying, its Stalinists and Agrarians splintering off. ... In the sinister center is the front-running team of the old spymaster Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov. They have the main money men and the media moguls behind them. Cozy corruption would most likely continue [with them].

"On the right," Safire goes on, "is Yabloko, the democratic party headed by [Grigorii] Yavlinsky, the only reformer not to have been suckered and dumped by Yeltsin. He's just been joined by Sergei Stepashin ... one of the revolving-door prime ministers; this expands the party base by bringing along not-nutty nationalists. Yavlinsky insists he's clean, and should help Yabloko in its goal of doubling its strength ..."

"What," asks the columnist, "should America do to advance the cause of freedom in the coming Russian elections? ... We should butt out of their politics. We have shown we do more harm than good to genuine reform. ... Yavlinsky's advice on what America should do: 'Relax. You are still looking for partnerships with people who may be shown to be corrupt. Please -- just relax.' "

KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWSPAPERS: The war seems unwinnable, and it's going to drag on for months and years

In a news analysis for the U.S. Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, correspondent Dave Montgomery says that "Russia's war in [the southern republic of] Dagestan could go on for years." Writing from Moscow, he notes that the war unfolding in Dagestan "is being waged by a well-trained international Islamic force of more than 10,000 that has been planning the insurgency for more than a year, apparently with the support of fugitive Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden, military and anti-terrorism experts say."

The analysis continues: "The insurgents' stated goal is to carve an independent Islamic state out of Chechnya and Dagestan, on the western side of the Caspian Sea, but a number of experts believe the war is part of a broader crusade to destabilize the oil-rich Caspian region. Far from being a rag-tag group, says Yossef Bodansky [director of the Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare for the U.S. House of Representatives], the insurgents are ... disciplined and well-armed fighters who began training months ago at secret bases in Chechnya and Islamic countries that include Pakistan, Sudan and Afghanistan."

Montgomery adds: "Russia, which will soon reinforce its 15,000 troops in the troubled North Caucasus region, thus finds itself mired in an escalating crisis that many analysts now believe could be even worse than its disastrous war in Chechnya, which cost Russia tens of thousands of lives." And he quotes Russian defense analyst Pavel Felgengauer as saying, "[The Kremlin has] a war right now that seems unwinnable, and it's going to drag on for months and years."



(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen also contributed to this report.)

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