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Western Press Review: Abkhaz Volatility, Development And Democracy, Afghanistan

Prague, 21 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics the Western press looks at today are volatility in Georgia's separatist region of Abkhazia, the "critical link" between economic development and democracy, and the prospects for joint U.S.-Russian disarmament. Other discussion continues to focus on the Middle East and events in Afghanistan, as well as the ongoing protests in Moldova over alleged government attempts to "re-Russify" the country.


An analysis in "Eurasia View" by Tbilisi-based journalist Jeffrey Silverman says that the kidnapping and subsequent release yesterday of four CIS peacekeeping troops by Georgian guerrillas in the separatist region of Abkhazia has focused attention once again on the area's volatility. Silverman notes that Abkhaz leaders suspect the government of President Eduard Shevardnadze is "preparing for a new round of fighting to try to reestablish Tbilisi's authority in the separatist areas." The Abkhaz leadership also suspects that the U.S. military advisers recently deployed to the region "will help train Georgian troops that are destined to be deployed by Tbilisi in operations to reconquer the separatist territories."

Silverman says observers are concerned that the Georgian government "has been emboldened by the arrival of U.S. advisers to the point that Tbilisi is delusional about its own military capabilities." But he says others suggest the U.S. presence "is lulling Shevardnadze and other government leaders into a false sense of security." These observers say the Georgian government "could decide that with the U.S. military helping to address security concerns, there is no longer a need to address structural problems, including corruption, that are the root causes of instability."


In a contribution to "The Christian Science Monitor," David Yang of the Institute for Global Democracy says that promoting democratic ideals is the best way to advance economic development around the world. He says the draft Monterrey Consensus, which has come out of the UN summit this week in Monterrey, Mexico, is rightly based on the relationship between political and economic development. At the summit's close, world leaders will commit to, in the words of the document, "promoting national and global economic systems based on the principles of justice, equity, democracy, participation, transparency, accountability and inclusion." But Yang says that to achieve this, world leaders will need to increase domestic capital, foreign investment, trade, development assistance, and debt relief. "They can do so precisely by advancing democracy at both the national and global levels," he says.

Yang suggests there is a "critical link" between development and democracy. While a democracy "cannot ensure that economic policies will always be sound, it can provide a more productive environment for the saving and investment of domestic capital." This, in turn, attracts foreign investment. Democratic institutions can also help smooth the economic transition for developing nations as they open up to international trade. Yang adds that democracies have "built-in mechanisms," such as a free press or regulatory agencies, to help ensure a level of economic transparency. Yang says a long-term strategy is needed to combat poverty and tyranny, factors he calls "two of terrorism's greatest sources."


In Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Daniel Broessler looks at the prospects for reaching a disarmament agreement between the United States and Russia, ahead of their Moscow summit scheduled for 23-26 May. Experts from both countries are spending today and tomorrow in discussions in Geneva to hammer out some of the lingering questions.

Broessler says that although there remain some fundamental disagreements, the heads of state are absolutely sure that they want an agreement, one that will "be lasting," in the words of U.S. President George W. Bush. Broessler remarks that the U.S. president originally thought a handshake and a friendly agreement would ensure this, but Putin insists on a formal treaty on the reduction of nuclear arms. Broessler wryly calls the Russians "sticklers over details" for this insistence, but says he is convinced the negotiations will eventually meet with success.


In the British newspaper "The Guardian," Kate Connolly looks at recent unrest in Moldova, as tens of thousands of Moldovans continue to protest government proposals to reintroduce mandatory teaching of Russian language in schools. Connolly says these plans have sparked widespread fear, especially among the young.

"The education minister has been sacked as a result, the interior minister has resigned, and a huge spat has developed between Moldova and neighboring Romania," after Romania was accused of supporting the street demonstrations. "Last week the countries ordered the expulsion of military attaches from each other's capitals." Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin believes that pro-Western Romania has been on a campaign to reclaim Moldova as a part of Romania, which it was until 1940. To offset Romanian influence, Voronin has pledged to deepen Moldova's ties with Moscow. Connolly writes, "His suspicion of the West knows no bounds: in Voronin's book [in Voronin's opinion], everyone west of Odessa is an 'imperialist predator.'"

But Connolly says "Ordinary Moldovans are in a quandary. Looking Westwards towards Romania they see that courting Western institutions like the EU does not bring prosperity. At least if it does, the Romanians have yet to experience it. Hence the election of the communists in a landslide last year," as Moldovans seek a way out of their post-Cold War difficulties.


Michael Gordon of "The New York Times," in a piece reprinted in the "International Herald Tribune," writes that the choice of an Egyptian venue for a possible meeting between Vice President Dick Cheney and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "is a calculated one." Gordon says, "The Americans are hoping that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt will put pressure on Arafat to put into effect the security plan that was overseen by George Tenet, the U.S. director of central intelligence." He writes that a main reason for the proposed Cheney-Arafat meeting "is to give the Palestinian leader an incentive to crack down on terrorist attacks and implement the Tenet plan. But there is also a hidden plan," Gordon says. "The meeting is also a device to force the Israelis to lift the travel ban on Arafat so he can leave the West Bank and make his way to the Arab talks in Beirut next week."

Gordon goes on to consider Cheney's tour through the Middle East this week and last. He says the U.S. vice president "quickly discovered a simple fact: Arab leaders were not anxious to pursue Cheney's agenda to mobilize support for a potential military effort to topple the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq." Their top priorities remain stopping the Israeli-Palestinian violence, helping the Palestinians establish a homeland and ensuring the success of next week's Arab League meeting, Gordon says.


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" says that the deployment of 1,700 British marine commandos to Afghanistan is "a welcome recognition that earlier claims of victory in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan were premature. It is also an acknowledgement that victory cannot be achieved by air power alone and that combat troops from many countries are needed for some time to come." The editorial acknowledges concerns that committing more troops "will suck the coalition partners into an Afghan quagmire. But the alternative of failing to defeat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda is worse," it says. "That would allow the terror networks to regroup and launch further murderous attacks," the paper suggests.

The paper adds that with "substantial British forces at the heart of the fighting," British Prime Minister Tony Blair will have more say in military planning, which will ensure the military coalition remains broad.

The paper goes on to say that Britain's dual roles as International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) peacekeepers and combat troops are incompatible. The lightly armed peacekeepers could easily become targets, it says. Another option would be for NATO to take up the role, the paper suggests. "NATO's military infrastructure could provide the command structure for ISAF and would automatically bring with it the guarantee of a U.S. military shield," the editorial concludes.


Several papers today discuss Italy's shock following the death of Marco Biagi, an assistant to Labor Minister Roberto Maroni. Biagi was shot outside his home in the northern city of Bologna on 19 March.

In the "Frankfurter Rundschau," Roman Arens says this brutal act is a blow to workers' rights and democracy, and as a consequence may "stir up unexpected turbulence." Arens fears that such violence may discredit protest movements and further undermine political discussion. The responsibility for the murder, he says, seems to point to the successors of the Red Brigades, an ultra-leftist group of the 1970s and '80s which advocated violence in the service of class warfare and revolution. But Arens says it would be "stupid, contemptible, as well as risky" to use such attacks as a pretext to suppress workers' demands.


In an analysis in the Austrian paper "Die Presse," Wieland Schneider says the brutal murder of Marco Biagi has profoundly shaken Italy and, for a brief moment, has halted the tense political struggle between left- and right-leaning politicians over the media, immigration laws, and labor rights. On the other hand, says Schneider, these are the very issues that have recently poisoned the Italian political climate. The sharp divide between good and evil has culminated in extreme tension, he says. Schneider suggests that on one hand, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has arrogantly abused his majority in parliament, while the opposition has also gone too far. But in spite of all the antagonism, Schneider says, the conflicting parties must approach their task in a more responsible manner. He writes: "Only jointly can they counter attacks against democracy. For, surely, neither of the politicians can want a return to the political terror of the 1970s."


In France's daily "Liberation," professor and author on Balkan affairs Paul Garde of the University of Provence looks at death threats being made in Bosnia against several high-profile Serbians by a group calling itself the Gavrilo Princip Association. The author reminds us that Gavrilo Princip was the Serbian nationalist assassin of Austrian Archduke Francois Ferdinand in 1914, an event that sparked World War I. Thus, says Garde, the group's choice of name symbolizes political murder in the name of the Serbian cause.

Garde says those receiving the threats are mainly Serbs from Sarajevo "who, during the recent conflict, stood for a multi-ethnic Bosnia and rejected the division of the country." Among them are those who defended Sarajevo against the forces of former Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic and those who opposed former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, now on trial for war crimes in The Hague. Garde describes the recipients as those "who, during the war, saved the honor of the Serb people and defended, almost solely, the cause of tolerance."

Garde says the death threats are a form of "international terrorism" and he urges the international community to lend its support to those threatened by conducting an official inquiry.


"The Times" of London calls the deployment of 1,700 combat troops to Afghanistan timely and logical. "Their dispatch is an important signal of Britain's continuing resolve in the fight against terrorism. Trained in mountain warfare, they bring to this battle against the hard core of Al- Qaeda skills that have been on offer since the start of the campaign but are only now proving essential."

But the paper says: "Effective deployment relies on a proper definition of the task and coordinated command. Several issues must be settled before the troops become operational in mid-April. The first is the division of responsibility. [They] must be fully integrated with U.S. operations. Their job will be to scour the ground, guided by U.S. satellite and airborne reconnaissance, to close the net around the Taliban and Al-Qaeda."

"The Times" says no time limit should be set on their deployment, for fear of underestimating the resilience of Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces. "Britain and America must also ensure that their operations mesh with those undertaken by the Afghan forces loyal to the interim government," the paper says.

The final question to be settled is the role of the British troops already deployed in Kabul with the International Security Assistance Force. "The Times" says there must be no confusion between the differing missions of the two forces, "in operations or in perception."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" discusses security in Afghanistan following reports that ethnic Pashtuns in the north are falling victim to revenge attacks and brutal, ethnically motivated violence. The paper says the U.S. must remain committed to building security in the country after its military campaign if it expects to reap lasting benefits for its efforts.

The editorial writes: "No sensible person inside or outside Iraq, for example, will stand with the United States in a campaign against Saddam Hussein unless there is reason to believe that the United States will help out after he is gone -- will make sure that Iraq does not fragment but rather begins to prosper as it cannot under its current dictator. The best way to convince Iraqis and their neighbors of such steadfastness is to demonstrate it in Afghanistan. The best way to convince them that America is not to be trusted is to shrug at reports of ethnic murders and other atrocities by America's Afghan allies."

The editorial says the U.S. must confront "out-of-control warlords and help extend peacekeeping operations beyond Kabul to other parts of the country where civilians are in danger. If the Afghan people were liberated from Taliban rule only to fall prey to returning warlords, history would not credit the United States with much of a victory."

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