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Press Review: War Crimes And War Errors

Prague, May 8 (RFE/RL) - The Western press continues to devote extensive commentary to the first international war crimes trial since those at Nuremberg at the end of World War Two. There's also commentary in the wake of a skeptical United Nations report on Israel's explanation of its attack last month on a U.N. camp in Lebanon.

Marjorie Miller, writing today in the Los Angeles Times (FF12), calls the U.N. report on the Lebanon misadventure "a devastating blow to Israel's credibility." She writes: "The nine-page report stops short of accusing Israel of having intentionally fired on the base April 18 during its 'Operation Grapes of Wrath' campaign against Islamic guerrillas in southern Lebanon. And it notes that the guerrillas had fired from positions near the base and sought refuge with family members inside. But the U.N. investigation takes apart point-by-point the Israeli Defense Forces' explanation that the incident was an accident."

In today's Washington Post (FF14), John M. Goshko writes: "The U.N. report was harshly denounced by Israel and the United States, with the United States issuing its strongest criticism to date of U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.... The United States specifically singled out Boutros-Ghali, with whom the Clinton administration frequently has disagreed in the past, for criticism. Boutros-Ghali, a veteran Egyptian diplomat before becoming U.N. secretary general four years ago, is widely believed to desire a second term as head of the U.N. secretariat starting next year."

The New York Times yesterday carried an analysis on the topic by Joel Greenberg. He wrote: "Thrown on the defensive by a draft U.N. report suggesting that the base had been deliberately targeted after the guerrillas took shelter there..., Israeli officers asserted at a news conference Sunday that the shelling was an accident in the heat of battle.... Using aerial photographs showing impacts of artillery shells in and around the peacekeepers' camp at Qana in southern Lebanon, the officers gave the most detailed Israeli account of the circumstances that led to the disaster on April 18. The mass deaths at Qana, in the midst of an Israeli air and artillery assault on Hezbollah guerrillas..., provoked an international outcry."

More than 3,000 km from Lebanon in The Hague, Bosnian Serb policeman Dusko Tadic stood on trial yesterday on charges of murdering and torturing Muslim prisonrs in a Bosnian prison camp. Ed Vulliamy of Britain's The Guardian writes in that newspaper today (F815): "Tadic yesterday stood where no man has since Hermann Goering and Rudolp Hess at Nuremberg, charged with 'crimes against humanity....' Mr. Tadic's defense warned that the tribunal was working to rules that have not yet been worked out.... The epic trial is expected to last several months and will bring former camp inmates face to face with their alleged torturer."

In an anlysis in The Wall Street Journal Europe (F702), Mark M. Nelson says today: "Court officials and human-rights groups also hope that the trial will help build pressure on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is implementing the military aspects of last year's Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the Bosnian war, to seek out and arrest Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic and military commander General Ratko Mladic."

he New York Times said yesterday in an editorial (FF58/7): "Mr. Tadic, a Bosnian Serb, is accused of specific acts of murder and torture, but not of masterminding the brutal human rights abuses that were the signature of the Balkan war. That distinction belongs to other men, and the work of the tribunal should be measured by whether it is given the support necessary to pursue and prosecute them.... The difficulty inherent in holding people accountable for the terrible crimes of the Balkan war is no reason to brush off the job. Western governments must insist that the Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian Governments live up to the commitments they made to bring war criminals to justice."

The prominent U.S. Knight-Ridder newspaper chain today published this analysis by Barbara Demick: "Dusan Tadic was buttoned into a navy suit, a paisley tie knotted tight around his neck like a noose. His fear was palpable as he took the lonely defendant's chair in the vast, bright courtroom. He sucked in his cheeks, bit his lower lip. His eyes darted frantically for a safe place to focus. He dared not make eye contact with the spectators across the wall of bulletproof glass, who stared as though they might fathom the secret of evil from the physical appearance of the small and undistinguished man.... Admittedly, he is a small fry; the former cafe owner and karate buff was hardly in a commanding role in the brutal war. Far more powerful people have been indicted but not arrested."

Tyler Marshall writes today in the Los Angeles Times: "(The trial began) amid a sense of anticipation and history but with troubling questions hanging in the air and... Tadic as the lone defendant.... The tribunal's biggest shortcoming to date has been its failure to gain custody of those it has indicted.... Advocates of The Hague tribunal see it as a major advancement on the World War Two (Nuremberg) courts because it is not composed of victors but is an international body made up of representatives from nations not directly involved in the Bosnian war."

The New York Times' Kit R. Roane visited Tadic' family in Kozarac, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and published this analysis in the newspaper today: "Ljubomir Tadic's family videos are fuzzy from use. But he assures visitors that poor quality does not hide veracity, and as he pops one after another into his recorder, rewinding and re-running them, he says there can be no doubt that a terrible mistake has been made in The Hague. On the screen there is a party before the war, his brother Dusan Tadic toasting with Muslim neighbors.... Dusan's brothers, Ljubomir and Mladen Tadic, have begun a campaign to prove his innocence, saying the videos are only a fraction of what they have collected over the last two years in preparation for the trial."

"Tadic was a small fish," Christopher Lockwood writes today in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph (F808). Lockwood goes on, "(He) held no formal position in the Bosnian Serb army, or even as a guard at its prison camps. His only official position in the Bosnian Serb administration of Prijedor, in the northeast where the ethnic cleansing was at its harshest, was as a traffic policeman."