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Western Press Review: Returning Iraqi Sovereignty, Human Rights In Afghanistan, And Lithuania's Impeachment Decision

Prague, 17 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A review of press coverage and analysis today finds discussion of the anticipated 30 June return of Iraqi sovereignty, nationalist politics in Serbia, and the impeachment of Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas. We also hear calls for a renewal of the West's commitment to Afghanistan, as persistent insecurity, warlord rule, and human rights abuses continue to prevail in the areas outside the capital.


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Misha Glenny discusses a statement last week by The Hague's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, in which she alleged that Belgrade had become a haven for wartime fugitives. Glenny is the director of SEE Change 2004, an organization promoting regional cooperation in the Balkans.

He says Del Ponte's statement "comes at a delicate time in Serbian politics, as leaders of the so-called 'democratic bloc' make a last-ditch attempt to form a minority government." Otherwise, new elections could bolster support for Serbia's nationalists, the Radical Party, which is already the biggest party in parliament.

The Serbian government is "exasperated" by the chief prosecutor's allegation, having already "handed over several key indictees -- including [former President Slobodan] Milosevic himself."

Glenny says Belgrade fears that such accusations strengthen the claims of the Radical Party. Its recent rise in popularity "is chiefly the result of the lack of visible economic progress," Glenny says. But Del Ponte's accusations "reinforce another popular belief, that Serbia has been singled out for punitive treatment by the international community, a fear that the Radicals use to make considerable political capital."

If the "political mood" in Belgrade takes a turn for the worse or the Radicals become a real force in government, Glenny says the United Nations and the international community can then "kiss any progress in Kosovo goodbye." Moreover, a rightward shift in Serbia would "place a significant burden on the country's already tortured negotiations with the European Union over its path to modernization and European integration."

Glenny says, "One thing that nobody needs at the moment is a wounded, unstable Serbia and an angry, impatient Kosovo."


An editorial in London's "Daily Telegraph" says the Coalition Provisional Authority's plans for Iraq "have been thrown into disarray by events on the ground. Current plans call for a transfer of authority by 30 June to an Iraqi executive "whose form has yet to be determined."

While the CPA favors appointing caucuses that will then choose a transitional administration, it has found itself "outflanked" by Shi'a Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is calling for direct elections to be held before the transfer.

Another option under discussion, that of simply handing power to the Iraqi Governing Council, "would be undue reward for a body which is despised by Iraqis and a source of irritation to the coalition." The paper says instead, the "wider the representation, the greater the legitimacy, which would seem to argue for a national conference."

The coalition understandably wants to end the occupation as soon as possible," the paper writes. Being occupied "is a status loathed by the Iraqis, and its ending could take the sting out of an insurgency which the occupying powers have failed to control. Whether the eventual nature of the transitional administration will satisfy Iraqi desires to run their own country remains, however, to be seen."


Nicholas Kristof of "The New York Times" says more than two years after the fall of the hard-line Taliban regime in Afghanistan, "many Afghan women are still captives in their homes."

The lack of security has left Afghans feeling betrayed, says Kristof. In the early days following the Taliban's collapse, there was such good will toward U.S. forces "that with just a hint of follow-through we could have made Afghanistan a shining [success]. Instead, we lost interest in Afghanistan and moved on to Iraq." Kristof says the U.S. administration has neglected to provide security outside of Kabul. "So banditry and chaos are rampant, longtime warlords control much of the country, the Taliban is on the resurgence in the southeast," and the United Nations warns that Afghanistan could turn into a failed state, under the control of drug cartels.

Kristof writes: "The rise of banditry and rape has had a particularly devastating effect on women. Because the roads are not safe even in daylight, girls do not dare go to schools or their mothers to health centers. And when women are raped, they risk being murdered by their own families for besmirching the family honor."

"So banditry and chaos are rampant, longtime warlords control much of the country, the Taliban is on the resurgence in the southeast."
The United States "should have started the process of change -- above all, by providing security. We missed that opportunity -- but it's still not too late." In today's Afghanistan, which is largely under the control of U.S. and international forces, "women are being kidnapped, raped, married against their will to old men, denied education, subjected to virginity tests and imprisoned in their homes. We failed them," he says.


Writing in France's "Le Figaro," Laure Mandeville says the shadow of Russia lurks behind the grave political crisis that is now gathering in Lithuania. Next week, a special parliamentary commission will decide on whether or not to impeach President Rolandas Paksas.

Accused by the special services and a parliamentary committee of having catered to criminal circles with connections to Russian intelligence, Paksas denies any involvement. Just three months from entering the European Union, Lithuania is now facing a series of major questions that have plunged it into what Mandeville says is "the gravest political crisis since independence in 1991."

And the divide is growing between those in the political establishment who are joining forces against Paksas and the people, many of whom consider him a populist hero.

Russian businessman Yuri Borissov, a former Soviet army officer and now the owner of a helicopter factory in St. Petersburg, was suspected of having violated a UN ban on exporting military material to Sudan. He is also accused of having tried to bring Paksas under his influence through campaign contributions.

And the fact that Paksas granted Borissov Lithuanian citizenship three months after taking office seems enough like a quid pro quo to raise many suspicions. A seized computer from his home revealed plans to secure special treatment in Lithuania for his company, ambitions for a councilor's post, and anticipated rewards for his commitment to the Paksas campaign -- all of which Borissov denies.

But in spite of the gravity of the accusations, Paksas refuses to budge. And this "inexplicable passivity" in the face of such "explosive" accusations may just seal his fate, says Mandeville.


As British, German, and French leaders prepare to meet in Berlin tomorrow, a "Financial Times" editorial exhorts them not to make any decisions that will relegate other member states to the sidelines of the EU decisionmaking process.

The so-called "Big Three" have met often before on EU business -- but the fact that each is sending various ministers to join the heads of state is a sign that they are trying to "solidify [the] three-way cooperation" by involving members of their cabinets.

Some view tomorrow's meeting in Berlin as a chance to bring "new leadership" to Europe following the "institutional limbo" evidenced by the collapse of constitutional talks last autumn and in the last remaining months before the 1 May accession of 10 new members. But other observers fear the trilateral alliance could put an end to any hopes for a measure of equality to prevail within the European Union.

In order to avoid making these fears come true, the "FT" says the "Big Three" must "ensure any agreements they reach do not preempt decisions by the union's full membership," or "bulldoze through changes to established EU policies." Many EU policies need reform, says the paper -- but these are for all member states to decide.

The triumvirate can, however, make valuable progress by setting an example and increasing their support for the common EU foreign and defense policy. But they should keep their cooperation "informal" and reserve some issues for discussion with the EU as a whole.


Writing in "The New York Times," Steven Erlanger says a successful democracy "grows out of a nation's history and experiences. It cannot be inserted [or] put on like a new hat. Nor can it be imposed, even by the most well-meaning or well-armed."

And yet many of the people that embrace the concept of democracy around the world do not have "any real idea of what makes it work." Establishing democracy faces three major problems, he says: "institution-building, which requires time, money and commitment; making that effort palatable [so] it is not seen as imperial; and making [democracy] sustainable in countries where other interests -- wars on terrorism or drugs, or maintenance of regional stability -- trump the ability to face down an illiberal state."

When the United States won its independence, its "society was stronger than the state; there was a foundation of individual rights and private property." Erlanger says later, "as slaves were freed and women and blacks won civil and property rights, the liberal order has become more democratic."

But efforts to democratize despotic regimes, such as in Russia, the former Yugoslavia, Haiti, or Iraq, bring elections "[to] societies without the rooted institutions that protect democrats and democratic values." Erlanger says elections "by themselves don't translate into parliamentary rule or civilian control or an independent judiciary, or fair taxes or protections for private property and minorities."