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Western Press Review: Intractable Conflicts In The Balkans And Mideast

Prague, 12 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and news analyses on the intractability of the conflicts in the Mideast and the Balkans dominate our review of Western press opinion today.


In a news analysis, "Los Angeles Times" staff writer Alissa Rubin, reporting from Skopje, says plainly what others have been hinting for weeks: "Macedonia is dividing along ethnic lines, and it may be too late to stop it."

She writes: "Regardless of the outcome of ongoing peace negotiations among political leaders trying to halt a rebel insurgency, the divisions on the ground are becoming so stark that it is hard to imagine how the nation's two main ethnic groups will be able to live together again."

Rubin says that if the negotiators -- Western diplomats and Macedonian party leaders -- manage to reach agreement with each other, which seems not at all assured, they will barely have begun to resolve the issues. Winning approval of their strong-minded constituencies may prove more difficult yet.

She says: "Even if the political leaders' peace talks succeed, questions remain about whether the two sides can sell the agreement. Macedonia's parliament, feeling pressure from nationalists, may not be willing to implement it. Furthermore, leaders of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla movement have not been included in the negotiations and may not support an agreement."


The Macedonian negotiations have been grueling. But London's "The Times" commentator Roger Boyes in Germany says on-site negotiators are not the only ones wearing down under the grindstone of Balkan troubles. So is the German body politic.

The writer says: "Balkan fatigue has entered the bones and joints of the German political class. The prospect of soldiers embarking on a new mission, to disarm the ethnic Albanian guerrillas in [Macedonia] as part of a NATO operation, has stirred revolt."

Boyes writes: "Macedonia is the wrong flashpoint at the wrong time," and adds, "Macedonia will show whether Europe can master its own problems. If it dodges the issues, what will remain of the credibility of the European defense force?"

The British commentator warns, "A bungled involvement in a new Balkan war, a Green demand for higher petrol taxes, a sense that unemployment is out of control -- the mood easily could swing against the [German] government."


Former German Defense Minister Volker Ruhe writes in "Die Welt" that the task potentially facing German troops in Macedonia is even more subtly flawed than "The Times" commentator Boyes suggests. Ruhe writes: "Our soldiers need a clear outline of their task based on an honest mandate. The task as it stands is to collect only those weapons [from the ethnic Albanian insurgents] that are handed in voluntarily, not those hidden ones of which our forces have knowledge."

Ruhe asks how their leaders can explain to the soldiers why they are to face dangers for only a symbolic result. He says Germany cannot accede to such a mandate.

He writes: "[The mandate] must be improved to enable NATO soldiers to confiscate weapons that are not voluntarily handed in."


The "International Herald Tribune" today carries a commentary contributed to the "Los Angeles Times" by political analyst Anna Husarska discussing the case of Albin Kurti, a Kosovar Albanian jailed in southern Serbia in March of last year. Husarska says Kurti was a student leader who -- much as the present Yugoslav government leaders have done -- opposed the reign and policies of former President Slobodan Milosevic. She says the charges against him were manufactured in a way typical of the Milosevic government.

Husarska writes: "Yet, the authorities from Belgrade are keeping in jail a man who opposed the Milosevic regime, who narrowly escaped the fate of Srebrenica Muslims and who probably would appear moderate today in the Pristina political picture. President Vojislav Kostunica of Yugoslavia is shortsighted if he does not understand that he hurts his own government by keeping in jail Mr. Kurti and the other Kosovar Albanians sentenced on trumped-up charges."


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" says in an editorial today that two incidents render obvious the fact that diplomacy has failed to avert war in the Mideast.

The newspaper says: "The first was an explosion on Sunday (29 July) near the Palestinian city of Nablus that destroyed an auto parts shop and killed six men." It appears, says the editorial, that the explosion was not the result of an Israeli attack, but instead occurred when a bomb the victims were assembling detonated prematurely.

The editorial says that the second event was the issuance by the director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry of a warning that Israeli officials should avoid countries where they might risk "unpleasantness and embarrassment."

"This," says the newspaper, "is no idle threat." The editorial says that Western powers seem ready to condemn Israeli leaders and side with Palestinian terrorism.

The editorial concludes: "The problem here is simple. European governments are supporting the Palestine Liberation Organization, which since its beginning has pursued its aims through terrorism. The United States has a special relationship with Israel, but has for years sought to be an honest broker between the two sides. In so doing, the United States, too, has lent aid and comfort to the PLO."


Contrasting with "The Wall Street Journal's" pessimism is a commentary in today's "The Irish Times" by staff writer Peter Hirschberg. He writes from Jerusalem that only negotiations can conceivably end the conflict.

Hirschberg says: "Israeli military planners must have thought they had achieved a great success yesterday (31 July) after an army combat helicopter fired three missiles at a Hamas office in the West Bank town of Nablus and killed six members of the militant Islamic movement, including two of its senior activists."

Not so, the writer says, adding, "This low-grade war of attrition has proved that there are no knockout blows."

The commentator writes: "In most cases, Israel has not taken responsibility for targeted hits on militants, but Palestinians say some 50 have been assassinated in the last 10 months. [But] the hits," he adds, "have not extinguished the violence and have drawn criticism from world leaders."

He concludes: "Whatever the number of Palestinian militants Israel succeeds in assassinating, ultimately there is only one way to extinguish the conflict fully, and that is for the two sides to sit down around the negotiating table."


German commentator Stefan Ulrich, writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," concurs, saying, "Attacking is the wrong defense." He writes: "At the beginning of the last century, states were allowed almost without limits to resort to weapons. Even aggressive wars were permitted according to international law. [Today], however, there is [in international law] basically a prohibition of force. Self-defense is valid in limited circumstances."

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict fits such guidelines imperfectly, Ulrich says, but the conclusion should be evident. He writes: "The peace process must go on because this is the best guarantee for security. Terrorism can only be dealt with through cooperation."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this press review.)