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Press Review: NATO And War Crimes Investigators in Bosnia

By Stefanie Baker and Fred Woelfel

Prague, Jan. 24 (RFE/RL) - With evidence of more mass graves in Bosnia coming to light, western press commentary is focusing on the need to prosecute war criminals in former Yugoslavia, and the implications such measures might have on the Dayton peace accords.

An editorial in the Washington Post looks at NATO's role in assisting war crimes investigators. It says: "NATO is rightly insisting on the Bosnian parties' cooperation in bringing accused war criminals to justice. For that very reason, it was troubling to read that NATO itself may be shrinking from some part of the task." The newspaper writes that there is a clear "potential for tension" between the peacekeeping mission and the war crimes tribunal. But it argues: "Close consultation can smooth out some of the differences between NATO's offer of general security and the human rights people's call for specific security." The editorial says that it is even more important to "make sure that the parties fulfill their commitments to arrest and extradite suspects, supply requested evidence and permit unhindered access to crime scenes." The Post concludes: "If problems then remain, the claims of the war crimes tribunal must come first. The fixing of individual responsibility for the war's most terrible offenses can build a basis for reconciliation in the region and deter further atrocities there and abroad."

An editorial in yesterday's Wall Street Journal argues that "justice" for war crimes is now being perceived as a potential "threat" to peace as defined in the Dayton peace accords. The paper says the "possibility that Bosnian-Serb (or even Croat) forces would threaten to pull the plug on Dayton" if the war crimes issue was seriously addressed is "enough to send the (U.S.) Administration into a sweat -- and NATO pledging it must stay away from 'mission creep'." The editorial continues: "The Clinton Administration has gambled heavily on the Dayton accord and is wary of seeing it jeopardized by crusading prosecutors turning up graves." The Journal notes that even though the war crimes tribunal is limited in scope, it plays vital role in helping "heal the wounds so that bitterness is not passed on from generation to generation." The editorial concludes that delaying investigations into war crimes "may keep the Dayton plan on track for a while, but it's hard to see how confidence in any peace can last with justice so shortchanged."

Under the headline "Punishment, not Protection," the Austrian daily "Die Presse" writes: "The world has confirmed in Bosnia that it is much easier to punish than to protect people." The editorial notes that war crimes have been committed for nearly four years in the former Yugoslavia. But it says: "War crimes could have been avoided if at that time NATO (or other) peacekeeping troops would have been deployed in order to hinder fighting, hatred, ethnic cleansing, mass murder and rape, or to treat such actions not as political cases but as crimes." The paper concludes: "Several U.N. organizations are now demanding that the peace implementation force collect evidence of war crimes. That's an important task," the paper says, "but the IFOR troops are there to protect the living, to occupy camps and free the people held there. Punishment of criminals is not their duty."

In a news analysis in today's Financial Times of London, Laura Silber and Bruce Clark look at the role Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is playing in war crimes investigations. They note that Milosevic has offered to help with the investigations, and even provided U.S. human rights envoy Joahn Shattuck with an escort of Serbian security men when he toured Srebrenica last weekend to investigate reports of mass graves. Sliber and Clark write: "The prominence of Mr. Milosevic, particularly in the unlikely role as co-investigator of war crimes, has placed the U.S. government in a dilemma....As a regional policeman, Mr. Milosevic may still be indispensable, but open co-operation with the original instigator of nationalist hatred in Yugoslavia could appear to compromise NATO's moral purpose."