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Western Press Review: Stalemate In Sarajevo; Repression In Kabul

Prague, 7 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators ranged this weekend over a variety of issues, including a Bosnian Serb no-show at a scheduled inauguration ceremony in Sarajevo, increasingly rigid control by the Taliban militia of every phase of life in Afghanistan, and delicate NATO-Russian relations.


WASHINGTON POST: The Serb boycott of the presidential inauguration was a blow

In a news analysis yesterday, John Pomfret wrote: "The Serb member of Bosnia's three-member presidency boycotted his own presidential inauguration Saturday because he refused to swear an oath to Bosnia. Momcilo Krajisnik and parliamentary delegates from his ultranationalist Serbian Democratic Party did not show up at the inauguration in downtown Sarajevo, dealing Bosnia's shaky peace process a significant blow."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: The ceremony was high farce

"Even by Balkan standards the ceremony was high farce," Julius Strauss comments today from Sarajevo. Strauss writes: "It was billed by the international community as the inauguration of Bosnia's new collective presidency. For the first time since the war began, Serb, Croat and Muslim leaders were to meet in central Sarajevo and pledge their allegiance to a united Bosnia."

The writer says: "European and American diplomats worked behind the scenes for two weeks to make sure everything would go smoothly."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The failure of Krajisnik to appear cast a shadow over the development of multi-ethnic institutions

The failure of Krajisnik to show up, writes Balkans correspondent Laura Silber in a news analysis in today's edition of the British newspaper: "cast a shadow over prospects for the development of multi-ethnic institutions aimed at welding together the two halves of the war-torn country."

Silber writes: "Mr. Krajisnik's empty chair shows the difficulties in building common institutions joining the Moslem-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity, envisaged in the Dayton peace agreement."

NEW YORK TIMES: The event was only ceremonial, but . . .

In the paper yesterday, Mike O'Connor wrote in a news analysis: "Western officials said the boycott would have no legal effect on the government, because the event was only ceremonial. But more important is what the boycott seemed to show about the level of good will toward the new government that diplomats had said they had noted recently among Serbian leaders."

O'Connor said: "The presidency may have the legal power to run matters until the rest of the government is created, but with Serbian leaders refusing to attend Saturday's ceremony, its legitimacy among Serbians is clouded."


NEW YORK TIMES: An exodus has begun among the Kabul middle class

From Kabul, the Afghan capital, John F. Burns writes today in an analysis: "Since the Taliban militia forces overran this capital 10 days ago and proclaimed a Muslim fundamentalist government, a ghostly exodus has begun among the Kabul middle class." Burns says: "The fleeing families have been frightened by decrees that threaten to return Afghanistan to village medievalism, especially for women and girls, whom the Taliban have forbidden to go to work or school."

He writes: "While the fundamentalists have brought peace to the 75 percent of Afghanistan that they control, their assumption of power in Kabul threatens a new and possibly more protracted ordeal -- a narrow, mosque-centered society modeled on life in the mud-walled villages from which many Taliban clerics and fighters have come."

Burns says: "But one thing on which virtually all Afghans in areas under Taliban control can agree is that the fundamentalists have accomplished something that few would have believed possible -- putting an end in most of the country to a conflict that evoked the waves of barbarism that swept across Asia in the distant past."

WASHINGTON POST: Strict Islamic rule could cause countries to withhold recognition and aid

Writing from Kabul yesterday, Kenneth J. Cooper profiled Amir ul Mumenin (High Leader of the Faithful) Mohammed Omar. Cooper wrote: "The leader of the conquering Taliban militia is a reclusive, one-eyed cleric who has declared himself (high leader) of the faithful, an Islamic title of great reverence that few Muslims in the world claim."

Cooper wrote: "The militiamen who have captured Kabul and control most of Afghanistan are mostly provincial peasants with little exposure beyond the battlefield and the mosque. They appear to be isolated even from most other Islamic fundamentalist movements." He said: "Few Taliban leaders have had any preparation to govern a country in serious need of international assistance after ethnic militias have spent 18 years fighting the Soviets and then each other."

Cooper said: "The one clear goal of the Taliban government -- rule guided by an interpretation of Islamic law so stringent that the government of Iran denounced it as medieval -- could cause other countries to withhold formal recognition and reconstruction aid."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Some fear that the Taliban could embark on a holy war

The paper carries today a news analysis from Kabul by Alex Spillius, who writes: "The Taliban Islamic fundamentalist movement which seized power in Kabul 10 days ago has warned Russia not to repeat the invasion of 1979 that plunged Afghanistan into 17 years of bloody conflict. The warning follows a strongly-worded statement from an emergency weekend summit of four of the newly independent states of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) and Russia that they would respond 'appropriately' to any threats to their borders by Taliban forces."

Spillius writes: "There are fears in the region that if Taliban unites Afghanistan, it will embark on a pan-Islamic holy war."

FINANCIAL TIMES: A Taliban leader says the movement does not intend to interfere with other countries

Sander Thoenes writes in a news analysis today: "Russia and the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia made a show of unity at the weekend in the face of a Taliban assault in neighboring Afghanistan, even as one of the Taliban leaders pledged that they had nothing to worry about." Citing Reuters, he quotes Mulluh Mohammad Ghous as saying, "The position of the Taliban Islamic Movement is to restore peace and security within the borders of Afghanistan and establish a strong central government. It does intend to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries."

NATO and Russia

LONDON GUARDIAN: NATO attaches great importance to Lebed's visit

On the topic of NATO and Russia, John Palmer in Brussels writes today in an analysis: "Moscow's security chief, General Aleksandr Lebed, who spoke last week of a possible military response if NATO goes ahead with its planned expansion to Central Europe, arrived at NATO headquarters in Brussels yesterday hinting at a more flexible Russian policy." Palmer writes: "NATO is attaching great importance to General Lebed's visit to its political and military headquarters as well as to the Western European Union, the defense arm of the EU."

LONDON TIMES: The crisis in the Russian armed forces is a threat to Russia and European stability

The paper today says that "weakness in the Russian armed forces is bad news for NATO." The Times says in an editorial: "Aleksandr Lebed arrives at NATO's headquarters today to do battle on the subject of Russia's future relations with the alliance. The outspoken former general has, after earlier conciliatory remarks, added his gravel voice to Kremlin denunciations of NATO's planned enlargement."

The Times says: "Moscow's resistance is related to uncertainties at home, where General Lebed is engaged in his own wars on several fronts." The newspaper says: "The crisis in the Russian armed forces is one of the biggest threats not only to Russia itself, but to its neighbors and to the stability of Europe. What was once a trained, capable and disciplined force is now a rabble -- impoverished, corrupt and surly."