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Western Press Review: Commentary Ranges Wide

Prague, 20 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press scatters its international commentary today, with no single issue drawing wide attention.

GUARDIAN: Britain should admit a measure of responsibility for the current crisis

Writing in the British newspaper The Guardian, commentator George Monbiot has harsh words for Britain for its role in the standoff between white farmers and black squatters in Zimbabwe. He declares: "The dispute between London and Harare is a dispute between racists." The British government, he notes, says it will welcome white refugees fleeing persecution in Zimbabwe, but announced that it would expel 3,000 Kosovar Albanians.

Monbiot argues that Britain should admit a measure of responsibility for the current crisis over the concentration of land in the hands of the white minority. He says a 1979 (Lancaster House) agreement stipulated that the Zimbabwean government must use scarce foreign currency to compensate farmers for expropriating their land. In his words: "The agreement bound the country to a program of land reform whose implementation would have cost billions. Having hinted that we would pay for it, our government handed over only a fraction of the money required -- 44 million pounds -- to make it happen. Had a sterner settlement been struck, or had Britain been more generous, there might not have been a land distribution problem."

WALL STREET JOOURNAL EUROPE: The conservatives should rethink the tough immigration rules

Britain -- or at least, a British politician -- is taken to task from another quarter. The Wall Street Journal Europe scolds William Hague, the leader of Britain's Conservative Party, for his call this week to detain all new asylum-seekers in reception centers until their cases are resolved. The paper attacks Hague's argument that Britain's refugee policy is too lenient and attracts thousands of illegitimate asylum seekers.

The Wall Street Journal argues that the refugee process in Britain is much tougher that Hague wants voters to believe. In its words: "The average asylum application takes 13 months to review. Asylum-seekers are barred from working while their cases are being investigated, and the only advice they receive is how to pick up their social security payments. Moreover, it is at least partly the tough immigration rules in Britain that induce many who simply want to better their lives to falsely cloak their aspirations in the Geneva Convention."

The editorial concludes: "The Tories (Conservatives) would be on more solid ground if they argued for a rethink of some of these policies that leave Britain's asylum-seekers looking like free-loaders even when they don't want to be."

NEW YORK TIMES: Mr. Putin seems to prefer to keep people guessing about his plans

In a New York Times analysis, correspondent Celestine Bohlen assesses the performance of Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin, and concludes that so far, he seems to be a man with plenty of power and little vision. Bohlen notes that just three weeks after his election, Putin has already scored two major victories in parliament -- ratification of the Start-2 nuclear arms reduction treaty and an overwhelming decision yesterday to dismiss Prosecutor-General Yuri Skuratov. She says the victories are "proof that [Putin] has the political strength to command a majority in both houses." But despite his strength, the analysis says, "it is not clear what Mr. Putin plans to do with his mandate. Both the ratification of Start-2 and the dismissal of Mr. Skuratov are leftovers from the Yeltsin agenda."

Bohlen notes that Putin's first policy statement is expected soon after he is inaugurated on May 7. In the meantime, she concludes, "Mr. Putin seems to prefer to keep people guessing about his plans and policies, from the redefinition of the relationship between the central government and the regions to the rearrangement of broadcasting licenses among competing media companies."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCEE MONITOR: China will be a more responsible world citizen operating on the inside of the community of nations

The effect of China's potential admission into the World Trade Organization, or WTO, is the subject of an analysis in the Christian Science Monitor. Business school professor Murray Weidenbaum (of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri) argues that the United States can use freer trade with China as a tool to persuade it to improve its human rights record. Weidenbaum acknowledges that many Americans find China's poor treatment of minorities and religions distasteful. But he says: "If we had applied that standard at the outset, the membership of the WTO might have been small enough to fit into the proverbial phone booth."

He goes on to argue that establishing links with China could help it to end its long-standing isolation. "[The U.S.] government must balance concern for human rights against other important interest that also have significant moral aspects -- such as peace, national security, and the prosperity of our citizens," the commentary says. "Judging strictly from the viewpoint of American interests, the likelihood is that China will be a more responsible world citizen operating day to day on the inside, rather than on the outside, of the community of nations."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The assistance is too late for too many

An analysis in the International Herald Tribune rebukes the international community for its slow response to this year's famine in Ethiopia. Manzoor Ahmed a UNICEF representative who used to work in Ethiopia and now heads the agency's office in Japan, argues that the world learned nothing from Ethiopia's famine 15 years ago, when help was also late arriving. "Signs of an emerging food crisis have been evident for months," Ahmed writes of the current crisis. He notes that Ethiopian officials warned months ago that 8 million people were facing starvation. But, he says, "an appeal for lifesaving health and nutrition aid for children and women affected by the drought has remained unfunded. Only now are grain supplies from the World Food Program and high protein foods for treating severely malnourished children starting to arrive." He concludes: "As in 1984 and 1985, the assistance is too late for too many."

NEW YORK TIMES: Elian should be returned to the custody of his father

Turning to the ongoing saga of 6-year-old Cuban shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez, The New York Times argues that it's time the boy is taken from his Miami relatives and reunited with his father. The editorial notes that with yesterday's court decision that Elian must stay in the United States until a full appeal of his case is heard, he will probably be in the country for some time.

The paper offers this advice: "While Elian remains in the country, he should be returned to the custody of his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez,[who is in Washington]." Since yesterday's court ruling leaves U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno free to reunite father and son, the editorial says, she should do so as soon as possible. In its words: "She must continue to apply the pressure of law against [Elian's Miami relatives]. She should seek an affirmative court order from a federal district judge to direct the relatives to turn Elian over to the [Immigration and Naturalization Service] for transfer to his father. If they defy such an order, they could be held in contempt of court and face serious legal sanctions."