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Western Press Review: Assassinations In Mideast, Genocide In Former Yugoslavia

  • Don Hill

Prague, 3 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press survey collects substantial commentary today on "official" homicide -- Israel's assassinations of suspected Palestinian terrorists in the Mideast, and Serb General Radislav Krstic's targeting of an entire race at Srebrenica.


In the British daily "The Independent," writer Stephen Castle comments from The Hague: "The sentence of 46 years handed down to General Radislav Krstic yesterday might sound severe, but the massacre at Srebrenica was perhaps the most shocking episode of the bloody Balkan war because the thousands who died had sheltered in a UN 'safe haven.'" The writer places the words "safe haven" in quotation marks, acknowledging that Srebrenica turned out to be anything but that.

Castle writes: "Even by the standards of the war crimes tribunal this trial was harrowing, as prosecutors catalogued extermination, decapitations, and torture, painting a picture of systematic executions unknown on this scale since World War II."

"The Independent" writer says: "Such was the quality of the forensic evidence, of the accounts of survivors of the massacre and even of one of those who carried out some of the shootings, that the fact that the carnage took place was not in doubt. But the defense disputed that genocide took place, and denied that Krstic, who was first deputy commander, then commander of the Drina Corps, was responsible for the murders."

Castle says that the charge of genocide is difficult to prove because its definition uses the words "committed with intent" to destroy a national ethnic group.


German commentator Stefan Ulrich writes in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," "From Banja Luka to Belgrade, many Serbs will view the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia's conviction of Radislav Krstic as another arbitrary act of rough justice handed down with impunity by a conquering power."

Ulrich says: "The controversy proves one thing. The role of the first international court has changed beyond measure since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials which followed World War II. Once dismissed as a paper tiger, the tribunal now is accused of being overzealous."

The writer says that since international law requires all countries to cooperate with the tribunal, there no longer is any real question of its infringing national sovereignty. He concludes: "[But] some observers say it would look all the more convincing if the court had investigated possible crimes committed by NATO during the Kosovo war. Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has rejected this proposal on the grounds of insufficient evidence."


Writer Gerald de Hemptinne in the French daily "Liberation" notes with approval the Krstic conviction. De Hemptinne writes, "With the words 'you are sentenced to 46 years in prison' the Portuguese judge Almiro Rodriguez yesterday concluded the exemplary trial of Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic." The writer continues, "Krstic is the first of those responsible for [the Srebrenica] massacre to be judged by the tribunal."

He concludes, "It took just 94 days to prove that genocide was committed at Srebrenica, which is to say that a whole population was exterminated there solely because of [its] religion and ethnic identity."


The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" editorializes: "The genocide sentence will not bring the victims to life. It does not redeem the shame of either the declared UN safe haven or those who left the people in the lurch. However, in recognizing Krstic's guiltiness of genocide, and not seeing this as an exceptional case, the war crimes tribunal has taken a step in the right direction."


"The Washington Post" foreign service correspondent Keith Richburg says in a news analysis, "The incident [at Srebrenica was] perhaps the single most horrific act of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans conflict."

He writes, "The verdict [yesterday] is likely to affect the current investigation of the former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic." Milosevic so far is charged only with crimes related to Kosovo, but the prosecutors say they intend to add charges stemming from his alleged support for Serb military offensives earlier in Bosnia.

Richburg writes also: "[Yesterday's] verdict is likely to have particular echoes in the Netherlands and France. In both countries, parliamentarians and other groups are wrestling with the question of whether their failure to act more forcefully in some way enabled genocide."

The writer adds: "[The] ruling will weigh heavily in the prosecution of other Bosnian Serbs indicted for genocide, two of whom are being held in The Hague. The other two, [former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan] Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, his military commander, are fugitives."


The Swiss German-language daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" welcomes the Krstic conviction but says that the ultimate guilt spreads farther. The newspaper says in an editorial, "As much as we welcome the sentence as a form of justice for the victims, this should not be an excuse for the West's share in the guilt to be swept under the carpet."

The editorial says: "The drama of Srebrenica is also the result of hesitation, inconstancy and irresolution, the result of a long line of failures and indecision on the part of the West and UN. If they had had more courage at the time, maybe the victims of Srebrenica would be alive today."

The Western press has been almost unanimous in its condemnation of Israel's missile attack on 31 July which killed eight people, including a top official of the radical Islamic group Hamas. Commentators noted that the slaying targets were terrorism suspects, who had not been convicted in any court. They said that the Israeli policy was not only morally wrong but also pragmatically counterproductive. Here are two excerpts from editorials in "The Washington Post" and the "Chicago Tribune."


The Washington Post writes: "Israel's missile attack on Tuesday on an office building in the center of the West Bank town of Nablus [effectively] undermines any chance of the cease-fire with the Palestinians that the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon claims it wants."

It adds: "Mr. Sharon, like the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, says he understands that there can be no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But both leaders appear to prefer the bloody but low-grade warfare they are waging now to even the modest steps toward peace offered by the Mitchell plan."


The "Chicago Tribune" writes: "Israel's airstrike assassination of Hamas leaders [has] produced a wailing and gnashing of teeth from aggrieved Palestinians. No doubt there soon will be a reprisal of some sort on Israelis, and a wailing and gnashing of teeth on the Israel side."

"Israelis and Palestinians [have] one thing in common. They are willing to accept a certain level of death to achieve their political goals. We don't know what that level is yet. But the fact that neither the Palestinian nor Israeli population has risen up demanding in overwhelming numbers that their leaders sue for peace, says there is an acceptable level of death."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba and Charles Recknagel contributed to this press review.)