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Western Press Review: Milosevic Indictment

By Don Hill/Dora Slaba

Prague, 28 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press comments generally with approval today on an international war crimes tribunal's indictment of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. But commentators perceive grave practical problems in what they hail as a moral action.

WASHINGTON POST: Will Milosevic's indictment serve to strengthen the cause of international justice?

The Washington Post says in an editorial that the court's formal accusation could end up as a mockery. The editorial calls the indictment "a powerful document". The Post says: "On page after page, the indictment lists the victims, ranging alphabetically from Lute Asllani, female, to Bajram Sejdiu, male, and chronologically from 4-year-old Fnu Zhuniqi to 90-year-old Nuredin Behrami. But even as the indictment was published, Serb police continued to kill, rape and deport. The existence of the tribunal, in other words, and the threat of indictment did not deter these war crimes, as advocates of international justice hoped would happen."

The editorial concludes: "But whether [this case] serves to strengthen the cause of international justice; whether it honors the victims or ends up mocking their memory -- that will depend on whether Mr. Milosevic eventually stands in court to defend himself against the charges, or whether he [continues] to roam free."

GUARDIAN: Barbarism cannot go unpunished

From London, an editorial in The Guardian holds nothing less than a new international creed -- that national leaders must be penalized for barbarities -- is at stake. The paper writes that: "Amnesty International put it [this way] yesterday, that 'no one, whether a head of state or a private soldier, is immune from criminal responsibility for crimes against humanity.' It is this doctrine which is at stake in this war -- the belief that barbarism cannot go unpunished. After our dark century, it is a creed we should all welcome."

INDEPENDENT: Milosevic should have been indicted long ago

The Independent, London, summed up a brief editorial in its headline: "Milosevic should have been indicted long ago."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The NATO dilemma was made clear

Commentator Stefan Ulrich, writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, dissects the series of dilemmas which now confound the West in Yugoslavia.

He writes: "The alliance [intends to serve] the dictates of morality, justice and realpolitik [in the Balkans war]. And it is a war which the West already has lost. No matter how NATO acts, it violates -- at least in part -- one or more of those principles. Morality obliged NATO to take up weapons against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic."

Ulrich continues: "[As a legal matter], the attacks began without United Nations approval. In international law, the strategy of destroying the infrastructure of Yugoslavia is even more controversial." The commentator says: "The NATO dilemma was made clear [yesterday] when Louise Arbour, the chief prosecutor at the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal, appeared before the press and announced a legal bombshell. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was charged with war crimes in Kosovo and an international warrant was to be issued for his arrest. [This was] a victory for justice and a victory for morality, but it is a defeat for political sense."

IL MESSAGGERO: Indictment makes the search for peace more difficult

Italy's IL Messaggero concurs. It says in an editorial: "The indictment against the Serbian Fuehrer [can] only render a search for peace more difficult."

LIBERATION: The charges brought by the International Tribunal impede any compromise

So does France's daily Liberation. It editorializes: "Such an indictment, even though only concerned with limited crimes, signifies a change in the attitude of the international community, which regarded Slobodan Milosevic as a partner in the negotiations for a settlement. Mentioned in current discussions with the Russians to find a diplomatic resolution of the crisis was a possibility of immunity for the Yugoslav head of state. The charges brought by the International Tribunal impede any such compromise."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: So far, politicians of vision and courage have been conspicuous by their absence

Author, diplomat and Balkans specialist Christopher Bennett writes in a commentary published by the Wall Street Journal Europe that indicting Milosevic is only the first small step. Bennett says: "By indicting Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four of his inner circle, the Hague tribunal has raised the stakes in the eight-year-old Balkan conflict, but not necessarily brought it closer to a just and durable solution. That depends on the will of Western leaders to take the necessary political risks to give his indictment teeth."

Bennett concludes: "The risks of launching a full-scale invasion of [Kosovo] are enormous. But anything less simply will not lead to a long-term and durable solution. Pulling it off will take politicians of incredible vision and courage. So far, they have been conspicuous by their absence."