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Western Press Review: Kosovo, Other Conflicts

By Grant Podelco and Dora Slaba

Prague, 29 April 1999 (RFE/RL) - The ongoing conflict between NATO and Yugoslavia over the treatment of ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo continues to dominate editorials and commentaries in the Western press.

Some newspapers and analysts are also using the Kosovo conflict to question why Western powers are involved in Kosovo but not in other violence-plagued areas of the world, such as East Timor and Central Africa.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Serbia is hated today for what it has done

In the Los Angeles Times today, William Pfaff writes that the Serbs seem unable to concede that the cause of their war with NATO is not the goals they have for the Serbian nation but how they have gone about getting what they want.

NATO, Pfaff says, has never sought Kosovo's independence but has only defended its autonomy. Western powers, he writes, have now set peace terms that logically imply independence because Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's program of ethnic cleansing left them no alternative.

The West has become Serbia's enemy, Pfaff writes, because Milosevic's government has consistently responded to regional problems by committing what he called "atrocious violence" against civilians.

"Serbs," he writes, "generally refuse to accept that this is the explanation. But it is true. ... Serbia is hated today for what it has done, not for what it has wanted. Serbs must grasp this if they are to emerge from this crisis successfully."

WASHINGTON POST: Milosevic has left NATO with no decent alternative to waging more war

Columnist Jim Hoagland, writing in the Washington Post, says U.S. and European policy makers are assuming Milosevic will eventually yield control of Kosovo rather than absorb more NATO bombing. This assumption, Hoagland writes, ignores the accumulating evidence and needs to be revised urgently.

He says NATO has miscalculated Milosevic's intentions and that it is now time for alliance leaders to admit and correct their error. He says Washington and its European partners assumed all along that Milosevic would do anything to stay in power, including making a deal on Kosovo if enough force was applied. Instead, he writes, Milosevic made Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population the target of a "savage campaign to depopulate the province," catching NATO off-guard with a flood of refugees.

Hoagland says the air war may still work and should be intensified and prolonged. But he says Milosevic is still liable to up the ante and that a widening of the war on the ground, initiated by the Serbs, should now become the primary focus of NATO strategy.

Hoagland concludes by saying: "Milosevic has at each turn left NATO with no decent alternative to waging more war. The alliance cannot continue to base its strategy on the assessment that he will change now."

LA STAMPA: Western forces will only have to disarm, not fight

Italy's La Stampa newspaper, in an editorial, says the NATO bombing campaign has been a disaster for Milosevic and his regime. The Serbs, La Stampa writes, "used all their military potential against Kosovo's civilian population, but found no counter-measures against NATO's missiles."

At this point in the crisis, the newspaper writes, Milosevic is no longer acceptable as a party at the negotiating table. More than a month after bombing began, La Stampa says it makes no sense anymore to wonder whether it was necessary or effective. The air strikes have succeeded in weakening the Serb military.

La Stampa says that Belgrade's military machine is now so weakened that if NATO decides to send ground troops into Kosovo, western forces will only have to disarm -- not fight -- a Serb army in disarray.

NEW YORK TIMES: None of the options offers a quick solution

In an analysis in today's New York Times, Jane Perlez says the Clinton administration is faced with three choices in Kosovo, none of them appealing: an open-ended air campaign, the dispatch of ground troops or a diplomatic compromise. None of the options, she says, offers a quick solution.

Perlez says the U.S. has "choked off" debate about the use of ground troops in Kosovo, despite the urging of British Prime Minister Tony Blair to at least prepare for such an eventuality.

Perlez says the U.S. -- "with mounting eagerness" -- appears now to be focusing on a diplomatic strategy and is trying to use Russia to negotiate an exit to the Kosovo crisis. But she raises the question of whether Moscow -- acting as a mediator -- will really argue for NATO's five conditions for ending its bombing campaign, since Russia strongly opposed the use of military force in the first place.

Another problem, Perlez says, is "whether NATO is prepared to compromise on these conditions, after insisting it will not -- a compromise that would require some tricky explanations from NATO and the [Clinton] administration."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Moscow should exert its influence on Belgrade

Today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, in an editorial titled "Hopes Rest With Moscow," says all diplomatic roads out of the Kosovo crisis go through Moscow.

German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping has been in Moscow this week for talks on Kosovo, and the newspaper says Bonn is extremely interested in seeing Russia -- what it describes as "the long-suffering former superpower" -- emerge with a spectacular diplomatic success in Kosovo.

Should Russia succeed in its efforts, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung says, Russia will be an easier partner to deal with in the future. "This aspect in itself justifies Scharping's efforts," the paper says.

The newspaper concludes by saying, "There is a need for continued unity among the western powers until Moscow can exert its influence on Belgrade and make a valid impression on the confused Serbian public."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEEITUNG: NATO only attacked lies and a dictate of opinion

Peter Sartorius, in a commentary in today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, focuses on NATO attacks against Serbian state broadcasting facilities. NATO says the facilities are legitimate targets because of the state media's failure to report the truth about what is happening in Kosovo.

Sartorius asks: "Were the NATO actions against Serb media tolerable? [Are] not the spoken word, the written word [and] broadcasts inviolable, and was this not a sin against the freedom of information, even when the concern was to silence a tyrant?"

He writes that journalists must react whenever words become the subject of attacks, but that this was not necessarily the case in Belgrade. He says NATO did not attack freedom of speech and freedom of opinion in Yugoslavia, only lies and a dictate of opinion.

The Serbian state journalists who paid with their lives in the NATO attacks, Sartorius concludes, were abused by a dictator -- Milosevic -- in the same way freedom of speech is being abused in Yugoslavia.

LE MONDE: The U.N. has a fundamental role to play as the sole universal organization that can legitimize the use of force

A commentary in the French daily Le Monde by Thierry Tardy, an expert at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, also focuses on the crisis in Kosovo. Tardy notes that NATO in Kosovo -- like the U.N. peacekeeping force in Bosnia -- is proving ineffective in preventing ethnic cleansing. But in an interesting evolution, he writes, it is the United Nations that is being increasingly mentioned by Europeans and Russians as the organization that should legally regulate the resort to force in such crises.

Tardy says some lessons can be drawn from this evolution in thinking. He writes: "The U.N. has a fundamental role to play, not in directing multi-functional operations in a coercive manner, but in being the sole universal organization that can legitimize the use of force." He says the manner in which the U.N. was ignored by NATO at the outset of the Kosovo campaign should be an exception rather than a precedent.

Tardy continues: "If it is true that NATO remains the sole organization capable of managing spreading crises, it will have to confront two major problems previously encountered by the United Nations" -- the absence of political will of states to do much more than is necessary and their lack of sophistication in managing crises of the post-Cold War period. He says at the moment, states, international organizations and non-governmental organizations have not yet proven they have the capacity or skill to deal with situations such as Kosovo. WALL STREET JOURNAL: Bullets are flying and refugees are fleeing in a lot of other places too

The Wall Street Journal Europe, in an editorial titled "The Forgotten War," reminds readers that -- with attention focused on Kosovo -- it is easy to forget that bullets are flying and refugees are fleeing in a lot of other places, too. The newspaper says that no fewer than 20 wars -- "all of them bad and most of them unnoticed in the West" -- are being waged around the world.

Some of the bloodiest battles, the paper writes, are in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where President Laurent Kabila's troops and a hodgepodge of rebel groups and armies of at least seven nations have been fighting each other since August.

The WSJ says thousands of soldiers have died and reports of mass slaughters of civilians are a regular occurrence. "America and Europe cannot, of course, send their military to attend to all of the world's human tragedies," the WSJ writes. "But the lack of even sustained diplomatic gestures from the West has created a void in Congo that has been filled by some unlikely peacemakers," such as Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Perhaps it's impossible, the WSJ says, to unravel the complex rivalries fueling the fighting in Central Africa. "But it would be nice," the WSJ concludes, "if the governments of Europe and America would spend more time coming up with something coherent to say about the cataclysms underway in places like Congo, and less time talking about their new, 'humanitarian' foreign policies."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Why is the West not interfering to stop violence in East Timor and Indonesia?

Jose Ramos-Horta, writing in the International Herald Tribune, takes a similar approach. Ramos-Horta is an East Timorese Nobel Peace prize laureate and is vice president of the National Council of Timorese Resistance, which supports Timorese independence.

In a commentary, Ramos-Horta questions why the West is interfering to stop violence against civilians in Kosovo but not in East Timor and Indonesia. He says paramilitary groups in East Timor have killed scores of civilians in recent weeks. Ramos-Horta says NATO's leaders threaten senior Serbian officials with a war crimes tribunal but that in East Timor -- where he says massacres and ethnic cleansing have been going on for 23 years -- there are no suggestions of such a tribunal for Indonesia's military leaders. Many of these same leaders, he says, have received training in NATO countries. The European Union, he writes, has also taken a mild approach to the problem.

Additional steps are clearly necessary, Ramos-Horta says. NATO should cancel all military deliveries to and training and joint exercises with Indonesia and expel Indonesian military attaches from the capitals of NATO countries. NATO, he writes, should also freeze all bilateral financial transfers to Jakarta and pressure the World Bank and the IMF to do the same, "until Indonesian soldiers and police end their state terrorist activities in East Timor."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The issue of a Palestinian state can no longer be evaded after the elections

Moving to the Middle East, Britain's Financial Times says in an editorial that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was "damned if he did and damned if he didn't" after retreating this week from a pledge to declare a sovereign Palestinian state on May 4.

The decision, the newspaper says, followed intense pressure by the U.S. not to declare a state and equally intense pressure from Palestinians to do so. So, the FT asks, is Arafat's position as "lose-lose" as it looks?

The FT says the idea of a Palestinian state is a problem of form, not content, if Israeli leaders are unwilling to surrender enough land to make Palestinian statehood viable. The newspaper says it is inconceivable Palestinian leaders can accept much less than the entire West Bank, the Gaza Strip and occupied Arab east Jerusalem and still survive. "Dates and states aside," the FT concludes, "that is the issue. And, once the elections are over, it can no longer be evaded."

(Robert McMahon also contributed to this report.)