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Western Press Review: Commentary Focuses On UN And East Timor

By Don Hill and Alexis Papasotiriou

Prague, 22 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Mayhem and peace enforcement in East Timor attract the attention of a number of Western press commentators.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: This half-island managed to sway world opinion

In the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Andreas Baenziger, writing from Singapore, comments that Australian forces arriving in Dili under a UN banner acted more like conquerors than pacifiers. He writes: "Taking command of Dili's airport, harbor and the luckless UN headquarters, (they) presented themselves as absolute professionals, arresting and forcibly disarming the pro-Jakarta militiamen." Baenziger says that Indonesia seems strangely indifferent about East Timor. He writes: "This half-island which is home to fewer than a million people, managed to sway world opinion to such an extent that it triggered a UN-mandated invasion. And the Indonesians, who were supposed to be so desperate to hang on to this piece of a remote island, have been left thoroughly unmoved. So far, at least."

NEW YORK TIMES: The world's conscience is catching up with the changing nature of war

The New York Times says in an editorial that the coincidence of the peacekeeping force landing in East Timor and the opening of this century's last UN General Assembly debate is appropriate. That's because, in the newspaper's words: "the UN's role in conflicts around the world is perhaps the most important -- and most complex -- issue facing the institution today. " The editorial says that the most urgent challenge for the UN is to, as the editorial puts it, "find ways to honor what conscience urges." The New York Times concludes with this: "When the 20th century began, civilians accounted for 15 percent of war casualties. Today the figure is 90 percent, mainly because most wars today are not international conflicts waged by armies on a battlefield, but internal conflicts fought in streets and villages. This has made intervention both more difficult, as claims of sovereignty have trumped humanitarian considerations, and more urgent. At last, the world's conscience is catching up with the changing nature of war."

WASHINGTON POST: Appeasing Indonesia's darker, nationalist forces will not push the country in a positive direction

The Washington Post editorially expresses dissatisfaction with the level of candor of Indonesian President B. J. Habibie over East Timor. The paper concedes Habibie spoke some important truths yesterday when he told Indonesia's parliament that the nation should accept the results of a referendum on East Timor's independence, but the paper says it was a case of too little, too late. The honorable thing, says the newspaper, would be for Habibie to withdraw his military and publicly support the UN peacekeeping mission. The editorial says that Indonesia also should cooperate in investigating crimes against humanity.

The Washington Post editorial also says this: "Some diplomats argue now that the United Nations should ease off on such demands so as not to injure Indonesia's democratization. But confronting history honestly, as Mr. Habibie yesterday began to do, and respecting East Timor's democratic wishes can only enhance Indonesia's own democratic aspirations. Appeasing Indonesia's darker, nationalist forces will not push the country in a positive direction."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The 'witch hunt' is a bad omen for Indonesia's cooperation with the UN peacekeeping force

German commentator Juergen Dauth writes in the Frankfurter Rundschau that human rights leaders face grave difficulties if they seek to investigate crimes against humanity in East Timor. He says a principal defendant would have to be pro-Indonesian militia leader Enrico Guterres, an official who is well connected in the Indonesian government. Dauth observes that a 42-member team of UN human rights experts is currently gathering evidence. He quotes an unnamed European diplomat as saying that early findings reach the highest echelons of political and military institutions.

As Dauth puts it: "The fact that they [human rights investigators] are concentrating on the militias and their army contacts reinforces the impression in Jakarta that the team is conducting a witch hunt. This is a bad omen for Indonesia's cooperation with the UN peacekeeping force. The militias have admitted to having formed a so-called United National Front to defend East Timor, which every militia is said to have joined."

TIMES: Purely adhering to the rulebooks can be a too rigid stance

The Times, London, editorializes that international intervention in East Timor came late partly because pre-referendum brutality was a truth nobody wanted to face. It was late also because no government wanted to act without UN Security Council approval, available only when Indonesia finally was pressured into asking for help. The third cause of delay was 'realpolitic,' says The Times. The editorial put it this way: "Tiny East Timor stands out only in its suffering, whereas populous Indonesia, its oppressor, is a regional player with clout."

The Times' editorial addresses UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's questions regarding the UN Charter mandate that armed force is to be used only in the common interest. The questions are: "What is that common interest? Who shall define it? Who will defend it? Under whose authority? And with what means?"

The editorial goes on to say this: "[Annan] can do no other than insist that the commitment to intervene 'in the case of extreme suffering' must be fairly and consistently applied. He can do no other than insist on assent by the Security Council." Yet, the editorial says, he has had the wisdom to acknowledge that purely adhering to the rulebooks can be too rigid a stance to take.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Western governments must admit the tragic unintended consequences of their current policies

In some ways, says a commentary in the Wall Street Journal Europe, Western human rights advocates are intervening too much rather than too little. The commentary is by Alan J. Kuperman, a fellow in transnational security at the Center for International Studies of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, known as MIT. U.S. economic pressure forced Indonesia to stage the referendum in which East Timorese declared for independence. The diplomats should have realized the turmoil that would result and either have provided for security for East Timor or have avoided meddling in the first place, he says.

Kuperman writes: "This does not mean the West must ignore human-rights abuses. It can and should offer economic incentives for oppressive governments to liberalize gradually." He adds this: "First, however, the human-rights community and Western governments must look inward and admit the tragic unintended consequences of their current policies." The writer says that the West should develop the will to deploy forces to prevent violent outbreaks rather than, as happens too often, to send them in after the fact to meliorate them."

TO VIMA: A public backlash against Schroeder was inevitable

In Greece, press commentary dealt with a subject closer to home. That was the political defeats suffered by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats. One example: V. Moulopoulos wrote in a commentary in To Vima yesterday that Schroeder's party, the largest socialist party in Europe, risks losing 15 to 20 percent of its electoral power within a year. The commentator says this: "Not only did Gerhard Schroeder take a different stance from (his predecessor) Helmut Kohl, he introduced an even harsher austerity program, hoping that he would win the right-wing voters over to his cause and secure his position at the top of his transformed party." It didn't work. A public backlash against Schroeder was inevitable, Moulopoulos writes.