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Western Press Review: Searching For War Criminals

By Joel Blocker and Alexandre d'Aragon

Prague, 10 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The search for presumed war criminals, in Asia as well as in Europe, is the subject of much Western press commentary today. With the arrest Wednesday in Bosnia of two Bosnian Serb war-crimes suspects by NATO peacekeepers, many commentators and analysts are wondering if and when the two men's former political leader, Radovan Karadzic, will be apprehended. Others ask the same question about Cambodia's Pol Pot, the notorious Khmer Rouge leader who is still at large two decades after playing a major role in the massacre of up to two million of his countrymen.

LONDON GUARDIAN: Arrest of two Bosnian Serbs sends signal to others

Britain's Guardian newspaper says that the arrest of the two Bosnian Serbs "sends an immediate signal to the others, up to and including the biggest criminals of all." In an editorial, the paper writes: "Every time that the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) launches this kind of operation, it shows that the efforts of the international tribunal in The Hague are not so quixotic as first appeared. It also helps entrench the concept of a permanent effort to tackle such crimes wherever they occur." The Guardian believes the arrest of the Bosnian Serbs by British SAS troops serving under NATO was no accident. "It (was) a premeditated action," the paper says, "and the more that are planned in advance the better. These two suspects (Miroslav Kvocka and Mladen Radic) stand accused of appalling crimes at the (Bosnian Serb) Omarska (concentration) camp....Both men are said to have surrendered when it became clear they could not escape....That is an encouraging signal that should encourage more operations against the other thugs who are at large." The paper concludes: "The action also reinforces the argument for the creation of a permanent international criminal court to deal with genocide and other crimes against humanity."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: Karadzic preparing to surrender

Also in Britain, the daily Independent suggests that Karadzic may be "preparing to surrender to the United Nations court in The Hague to face war-crimes charges." In a news analysis, Rupert Cornwell writes that Karadzic "is believed to have fled his stronghold in Pale but his whereabouts could not be confirmed. Mr. Karadzic faces two counts of genocide for his part in the massacres of Muslims during the 1992-95 Bosnian war." The analysis continues: "Of the 74 people publicly indicted with Bosnian war crimes, 25 are now in custody in The Hague. But the key targets are Mr. Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic, who also faces two genocide counts. Mladic is believed to be still in Bosnia, at a heavily protected military base."

BOSTON GLOBE: Noose tightening around Karadzic's neck

Across the Atlantic, the Boston Globe's Elizabeth Neuffer writes in a news analysis that "the more war criminals that go to The Hague, the greater the chance that prosecutors can collect direct evidence linking Karadzic to war crimes." She notes that "Karadzic is largely charged with command responsibility, (that is,) the knowledge that those beneath him committed war crimes," and says: "The noose is tightening around (Karadzic's) is indicated by the number of Bosnian Serbs indicted for war crimes who have recently been arrested." Neuffer concludes: "The (current) flurry of speculation about Karadzic's future indicates pressure is clearly mounting for the former Bosnian Serb leader to surrender. Western officials, aware that Karadzic's power base has been eroded and that growing numbers of his followers are in custody, have stepped up their calls in recent days for Karadzic to surrender."

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Time cannot erase Pol Pot's responsibility

Turning to Pol Pot's crimes, the New York Times today says that "time cannot erase (his) criminal responsibility." In an editorial, the paper writes that Pol Pot's "murderous rule of Cambodia in the 1970s brought death to out of seven Cambodians. Trying him before an international tribunal would advance justice, promote healing in Cambodia and give pause to any fanatic tempted to follow his example." The paper notes that President Bill Clinton has "ordered (the U.S. government to) help move the 73-year-old former Cambodian leader to a country where he can be tried once he is arrested and (to) prepare the legal groundwork for prosecuting him." It goes on to say: " Pol Pot's eventual destination should be the Netherlands, where the United Nations Security Council could set up an international tribunal to try him, similar to the tribunal now trying war crimes suspects from Bosnia."

But the editorial also says that "one hitch (in setting up such a tribunal) might be a (Security Council) veto by (permanent member) China, which has protected Pol Pot in the past." The paper urges that "China's leaders, seeking a wider role in world affairs, should recognize that further efforts to shield Pol Pot would damage their standing. The uncertainty about China's intentions in this case underscores the need for a permanent and effective international criminal court to try future cases of crimes against humanity."

DIE PRESSE: U.S. forgetting a bit of past history

Austria's daily Die Presse, however, has some doubts about the U.S.'s role in bringing Pol Pot to justice. In an editorial today, the paper asks a series of questions: "Is the United States exceeding its competence? In what court of justice should Pol Pot be tried? Should he be tried at all?" It answers: "Certainly, he should, there's no doubt about that," and goes on to say: "Even the suspicion that (the U.S.) may be playing Rambo to uphold the Cambodian people's rights cannot outweigh the fact that there are one to two million dead for which no-one has yet been called to account." Still, Die Presse adds: "The U.S. may be forgetting a bit of past history: After the murderous regime of the Khmer Rouge was (removed from Phnom Penh) by the Vietnamese in 1979, it was still recognized by the U.S. as the legitimate government of the country for another year. Apparently the East-West conflict, along with hate for the Vietnamese, was then more important than morality."

GLOBE AND MAIL: Why are we skeptical about the whole exercise?

Canada's daily Globe and Mail today is also dubious about Washingtons intervention in the search for Pol Pot. In its editorial, the paper writes: "Pol Pot is still out there, somewhere in the nowhere of jungle between Cambodia and Thailand, and the U.S. government says it wants him....With the Khmer Rouge finally falling apart, capturing the world's greatest living mass murderer may not be all that difficult any more." But then it asks: "So why are we skeptical about the whole exercise?" In response, the paper first says that "rumors of Pol Pot's death or capture have been around for years; last looked like he was about to be turned over to the Americans (who, it should be noted, wanted to pass him along to Canada for safekeeping) but nothing came of it." Next it mentions "some diplomatic wrinkles (with Thailand) that need ironing out (and the possibility that) "veto-holding China, a long-time friend of the Khmer Rouge, may not want (him tried)."

But the Globe and Mail says "that's not really what our skepticism is about." It explains: "Putting Pol Pot on trial, all other things being equal, is hardly a bad idea. But all other things are not equal. Pol Pot is not Cambodia's most important problem....Cambodia is one of the world's poorest countries. It is also one of the most corrupt." The paper's editorial concludes: "Putting Pol Pot on trial...would do precisely nothing for Cambodia's current ills, by obscuring the real source of those problems. Trying Pol Pot is not necessarily a mistaken venture. But it shows all the signs of turning into a deeply misguided one."