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Western Press Review: Krajisnik's Arrest; Serbia; Russia; Iran

Prague, 4 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The dramatic early-morning arrest in Pale yesterday of Bosnian Serb leader Momcilo Krajisnik by NATO troops has evoked some immediate commentary in the Western press. Other comments on the former Yugoslavia deal with Serbia's continuing crackdown on independent media and NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia last year. Analysts also touch on Russia's human-rights abuses in Chechnya and Iran's movement toward reform.

BERLINGSKE TIDENEDE: It will be impossible for Krajisnik to stand trial without also getting Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic involved

In Denmark, the daily Berlingske Tidende writes in an editorial today: "Before the arrest of Krajisnik -- the most senior Bosnian Serb leader to be indicted on war crime charges so far -- NATO said a police action in the Serb-controlled town of Pale would have been both destabilizing and almost impossible to carry out. Both explanations have now been made obsolete," the paper says, "by Krajisnik's apprehension by French-led NATO troops."

The editorial argues that "the real reason for the delayed action is to be sought in what the West calls 'realpolitik.' The West," it goes on, "needed Krajisnik as a stabilizing factor in the first years following the end of the Bosnian wars [in 1995]. But now," it adds, "he is irrelevant to such political considerations."

Still, Berlingske Tidende says, "it will be impossible for Krajisnik to stand trial in The Hague [where he was taken by NATO later yesterday] without getting his two [Bosnian Serb] superiors -- Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic -- also involved in the case. The West," it concludes, "can only hope that pressure on NATO to arrest these two will increase once the [Hague-based International War Crimes Tribunal] begins its interrogations of Krajisnik."

LIBERATION :The arrest of Krajisnik is a step toward the arrest of Karadzic

In a news analysis for the French daily Liberation, Helene Despic-Popovic describes Krajisnik as the 'gray eminence,' the 'pillar,' indeed the 'brain' of the Serb republic in wartime Bosnia -- whose ostensible leader was Karadzic."

When Bosnia's wars ended in 1995, she goes on, Krajisnik used his post as president of the Bosnian Serb parliament to obstruct any attempt to change the status of the Serb entity within Bosnia. So systematic was his obstructionism, she adds, that he earned a reputation of being "Mr. No." His collaborators, the analyst adds, "liked to say that Karadzic and Krajisnik made up 'a dream team,' the first being 'flexible,' the second 'impossible to deal with.'" She also says that Krajisnik "profited financially from the war to the point where he was called the richest man in the country."

Despic-Popovic concludes: "The arrest of Krajisnik -- the most senior political leader yet to be tried by the [war-crimes tribunal] -- is a step toward the arrest of Karadzic, who is still in hiding."

WASHINGTON POST: Milosevic must be preparing for elections, a new Balkan war -- or both.

In a commentary for the Washington Post yesterday, Slobodan Pavlovic -- a U.S.-based journalist -- warns that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is, in his words, going after Serbia's free media again." He says: "Milosevic must be preparing for elections, a new Balkan war -- or both. Since the beginning of his rule in Belgrade as president of Serbia and Yugoslavia," the commentator goes on, "Mr. Milosevic has waged a crusade against the independent media. Now it looks as if this war is entering its final stage. In the past couple of months, more than 20 television and radio stations have been closed in Serbian cities and municipalities where the local governments are in the hands of the opposition."

Pavlovic explains: "By the end of this year, municipal and federal elections are to be held in Serbia. Under fair conditions and international supervision, they probably would have an encouraging outcome, with a defeat for the ruling 'red and black coalition' -- Socialists, Communists and right-wing radicals. Independent media are one of the major obstacles on Mr. Milosevic's path to the elections."

Pavlovic also voices another warning: "Two years ago," he writes, "before the 'ethnic cleansing' campaign against Kosovo Albanians, the flagship of the Serbian independent media, [the newspaper] 'Nasa Borba' in Belgrade, was closed. So were other media which had warned of the catastrophe into which the regime was pulling Serbia." He comments: "Kosovo is history. It is Montenegro's turn now. While the Milosevic propaganda machine rages, accusing President Milo Djukanovic's administration of betrayal and alliance with NATO, the Belgrade regime is imposing an economic blockade, closing border crossings and increasing military presence on the territory of Montenegro."

IRISH TIMES: NATO succeeded because it stumbled across the policy it should have been pursuing all along

In the Irish Times today, analyst Jonathan Eyal assesses NATO's victory in Kosovo. He calls it a "poorly planned and muddled" action, but still sees it as being "the first reversal of ethnic cleansing in the 20th century." Eyal believes that NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia last spring, in his words, "resulted in a temporary victory for the West, mainly because the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, committed even bigger mistakes than NATO"

The commentator argues against what he calls the "rapidly developing myth, [encouraged by] Western governments, that the war was necessary in order to deal with an urgent humanitarian crisis, which threatened the security of the continent." He argues: "This argument is bogus. There was nothing urgent about the situation in March 1999 which was not present a year before. [The] reality is that the argument was created in order to explain a different act: NATO's decision to use force without further or specific reference to the UN Security Council, and the absence of a clear legal basis for the operation."

Eyal then asks: "What really forced Milosevic to accept the Western-dictated terms for a deal?" A number of factors, he says, including Milosevic's realization that NATO was preparing a land offensive. He goes on: "The final consideration in [Milosevic's] decision to cave in was Russia's acceptance of NATO's terms. In short," he sums up, "NATO succeeded because, after two months of bombing, it stumbled across the policy it should have been pursuing all along: a combination of air and ground forces, and the right diplomatic strategy."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The international community has put up with far too much already

In Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, correspondent Daniel Broessler is doubtful that newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin can bring the war in Chechnya rapidly to an end. In a commentary, he writes: "The possibility is small that Putin is a man able to break the spiral of violence. The brutality with which he has enforced his will in the Caucasus certainly speaks against that faint hope. Yet," he adds, "the international community ought not to resign itself to accepting this reality. Quite the opposite. It has put up with far too much already."

Broessler goes on: "UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson used her visit to the Caucasus last weekend to speak of 'serious and conclusive evidence' of Russian human-rights violations in Chechnya, and asked Moscow for credible answers. But what was really needed at this juncture from the Russians," he argues, "were far clearer words and, better still, unmistakable deeds."

As for the 41-nation Council of Europe -- which monitors human rights in all its member states -- the commentator notes that the council's Parliamentary Assembly is due on Thursday (April 6) to vote on whether to recommend the suspension of Russia's membership in the organization. He argues that, if the assembly does opt for suspension on the basis of human-rights violations in Chechnya, "that might be just the signal that the Russian president cannot ignore. Putin," he concludes, "must be told, in no uncertain terms, that he is not at liberty to wield power in the same way in which he achieved it [that is, undemocratically]."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Democracy is coming to Iran

The International Herald Tribune today carries a commentary on Iran by Stanley Weiss, a U.S. business executive, who argues: "The curtain is about to come down on the Islamic Revolution in Iran. As with any good drama, the audience can only guess how the play will end. In fact, the final act is only now being written by the players themselves."

The drama opened, Weiss says, two years ago with what he calls "the surprise election as president of a little-known, reform-minded cleric, Mohammed Khatami. How [it] will end turns on the way the ruling cabal -- a coalition of hard-line ayatollahs and 'bazaari' merchants -- resolves the classic dilemma of totalitarian states." He defines that dilemma as: "Repression breeds reaction. The more tightly the regime clings to power, the greater the people's demand for reform. But the more it loosens its grip, the greater the call for even more freedom."

Weiss goes on: "The right-wing ideologues in Iran have consistently underestimated the forces for change. [What] the people now see is an Islamic state that controls too much of their lives -- from what they wear to how they act. What they want is a modern, moderate Islamic society." He sums up: "Democracy is coming to Iran. The only question for the actors and the audience is whether it will arrive after a bloody counter-revolution or whether continued reforms will bring this drama to a peaceful end."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)