Prague, 10 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The political and humanitarian catastrophe in Sierra Leone continues to dominate Western press commentary today. In the embattled west African nation, rebels have kidnapped hundreds of United Nations peacekeepers and thousands of people are fleeing from fighting. Most commentators take a dim view of the UN's ability to deal with the crisis.
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The international community's current approach is doomed to failure
Two newspapers say it's time to do the unthinkable in Sierra Leone -- call in the mercenaries. The Wall Street Journal Europe notes that international policymakers can learn some lessons from what's happened in Sierra Leone. "First, and most important," its editorial says, "not all the world's messes can be sorted out by sending in the Blue Berets."
The editorial goes on to argue that in Sierra Leone, the only solution may be to call in a group of South African-trained mercenaries called Executive Outcomes. It was this group which managed to drive Sierra Leone's rebels from the capital and keep the peace when the previous government asked them to so in 1997. The paper writes: "What the mercenary expedition demonstrates is that a small, well-armed and well-trained force can make peace in Sierra Leone. This may not be the job of UN peacekeepers."
The international community's current approach, the editorial concludes, "is doomed to failure. The U.S. Air Force is prepared to transport a battalion of perhaps 800 Bangladeshi troops into the war-torn capital [Freetown]. Like the rest of the multinational peacekeeping force, Bangladesh's troops will be lightly armed. While that will bring the UN combined force up to 11,100, it may just be increasing the number of [rebel leader Foday] Sankoh's hostages."
GUARDIAN: We should start considering the unthinkable
Writing in Britain's Guardian daily, author William Shawcross takes a similar view. He writes: "It is perhaps not surprising that traditional peacekeeping troop contributor countries -- from both the first and the third world -- are more and more reluctant to expose their soldiers to the dangers that peacekeeping involves. This surely means that we should start considering the unthinkable." Shawcross then spells it out: "The recent history of Sierra Leone shows that mercenaries or private security forces, properly supervised and controlled, may be the best answer to this and some other crises."
The author argues that "mercenaries do not have to be 'dogs of war' [that is, brutal enforcers]." During their previous stay in Sierra Leone, he notes, "Executive Outcomes' troops were loved where they were deployed." If they had been allowed to stay, he concludes, "Sankoh's [Revolutionary United Front, or RUF] might have been contained and the horrors of the last two years avoided. Hundreds of children [dismembered by the RUF] would still have their arms."
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: The weak-willed Security Council has shown it can't end wars
The U.S. daily Christian Science Monitor says the conflict in Sierra Leone highlights flaws in the UN's peacekeeping efforts. It writes: "A UN 'blue helmet' force is not NATO. Rather, it is largely passive, serving a Security Council where U.S. and European envoys know there is little will in the West to end small wars, but lots of guilt over not preventing previous disasters such as the 1994 Rwanda genocide and the 1995 massacre in Bosnia at Srebrenica."
The paper's editorial continues: "The weak-willed Security Council has shown it can't end wars, unless it enlists the U.S. or NATO to do so. Even when UN troops face bands of fighters, they usually give up, sometimes betraying civilians who put their trust in the UN, leaving many to perish."
FINANCIAL TIMES: Sierra Leone is likely to prove a seminal event for the United Nations
In Britain's Financial Times, Michael Holman and Mark Turner write that, "just as [the failure of the 1993 UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia] is etched in the collective memory of U.S. policymakers, Sierra Leone is likely to prove a seminal event for the United Nations." The two analysts continue: "Not since its failure to intervene in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda has the weakness of the world body been so harshly exposed."
The commentators argue that the implications of the current crisis could be devastating for the rest of Africa. They say that "it will severely weaken the enthusiasm of those holding the purse strings" for another planned UN peacekeeping effort in Africa, this one to oversee a "fragile peace" in the strife-ridden Democratic Republic of Congo.
"The Congo," they point out, "is a huge country, its infrastructure is shattered, and it has a population of nearly 50 million people, about 10 times the size of Sierra Leone." They conclude: "The consequences of failure [in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] will spread through the region, continuing to draw in its neighbors in what has been described as Africa's equivalent of the First World War."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRRIBUNE: There is a long way to go before peace can be declared
In the International Herald Tribune, political analyst Anna Husarska assesses UN peacekeeping efforts in another country -- Tajikistan. As Husarska wrote, the UN Mission in Tajikistan was preparing to leave the country on Monday (May 8), six years after it arrived and helped draft a peace treaty that ended the country's civil war.
But Husarska argues that it could prove to be too soon for the peacekeepers to leave. "The war may be over," she writes. "But there is a long way to go before peace can be declared." She continues: "The country lives in a state of lawlessness. Recent elections were far from meeting the free-and-fair standard. Drugs, mostly in transit, account for much of the economy."
Husarska adds: "A [new] full-fledged civil war may be unlikely, but there is still potential for a regional conflict to flare up." Normally, Husarska writes, "downgrading a UN mission is a sign of improvement. But in this case," she concludes, "although progress was achieved, the United Nations may have to be called back in again."
WASHINGTON POST: It is imperative that the U.S. government produce a much fuller report on the bombing of the Chinese Embassy
Some Western commentators also look at issues beyond peacekeeping. In the Washington Post, analyst Don Oberdorfer comments on one aftermath of last year's NATO air war against Yugoslavia, the apparent accidental bombing by the U.S. of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. He writes that even one year later -- and despite U.S. attempts to explain what happened -- "nearly all Chinese believe that the bombing was deliberate."
Oberdorfer goes on to say that so far "the Chinese government has not accepted "[the U.S.] explanation and little of it has reached the Chinese people." What's more, he says, "the Beijing government appears to be using the embassy attack as a club or bargaining stick against the United States."
He sums up: "It is imperative that the U.S. government produce a much fuller, franker and better documented report on the bombing of the Chinese Embassy, and that this be made public for both Chinese and Americans to see." Otherwise, he says, "a false belief about U.S. intentions and actions, given added credence by unconvincing apologies or silence that is taken for guilt, will continue to blacken America's name among the people of Asia's rapidly rising power."
POLITIKEN: Democracy has become a subject for discussion within the EU
In Denmark, the daily Politiken looks at another ongoing problem -- whether the European Union should maintain diplomatic sanctions against Austria. The sanctions were imposed 100 days ago to protest the inclusion of the far-right Freedom Party in Austria's government.
The paper says in an editorial: "The diplomatic sanctions introduced by 14 EU members states against [member-state] Austria cannot be revoked in a single stroke. First of all," it goes on, "it will take time to reach a consensus among the 14 [EU] leaders, many of whom have personally engaged themselves in the case. Second, the sanctions are unlikely to be rescinded altogether, but rather replaced by another form of action designed to show how much the EU wants to distance itself from both [the Freedom Party's] Joerg Haider and from what he stands for."
But the editorial argues that there has been some benefit to the EU debate over Austria. It has shown, it says, "that democracy and the values of the law-based democratic state have become a subject for discussion within an EU that until now has been preoccupied with trade and economics. This is especially important now, as the EU stands ready to expand eastward."
(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)