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Western Press Review: Iraq's Mass Graves, Politics And Religion In Central Asia, Romanian Corruption

Prague, 16 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the major Western dailies today considers the interplay between politics and religion in Central Asia; the somber discovery of several mass graves in Iraq; European policies in the Balkans; the U.S. role in the Mideast peace process, and corruption in Romania, among other issues.


A "Washington Post" editorial says while no significant weapons of mass destruction sites have been found in Iraq, "another kind of grisly site is turning up all over the country, faster than Western occupying forces can cope: mass graves." At least 10 such graves have been found and reported over the past month, "from Kirkuk in the north to Basra in the south." The smallest sites contain "a few dozen" bodies, "while in the largest identified so far, near the town of Hilla, about 3,200 corpses had been found" by mid-week. Journalists at the scenes "have described horrific and pitiful scenes from that southern town as Iraqis scrambled to dig up remains of lost relatives."

But "The Washington Post" says some human rights groups "are furious at U.S. commanders for failing to secure the [grave] sites so that forensic evidence can be methodically collected" and the abuses of Saddam Hussein's regime recorded. Iraqis "are insisting on locating and reburying their loved ones," and the limited number of U.S. troops has made cordoning off and securing the areas difficult. But the "Post" says "even with the disorderly disinterment, there seems little doubt that a devastating, overwhelming record of murder by Saddam Hussein's regime will be compiled."

The discovery off mass graves lends some weight to the argument that Hussein had to be removed, the paper says. But the fact remains that the U.S. administration's claims of his chemical and biological weapons programs -- its casus belli -- must ultimately be verified by the unequivocal discovery of such weapons.


"An estimated 6,500 people are in jail in Uzbekistan because of their religious or political beliefs," says the London-based weekly "Economist." Following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, religious groups sprang up throughout Central Asia. Two groups active in the region -- the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Hizb-ut Tahrir, which seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate throughout Central Asia -- follow "a brand of radical, internationalist Islam."

The "Economist" says although "there are legitimate concerns about Islamic radicalism, authorities in the region have been accused of using the fight against terrorism to crack down on political opposition and justify their control over religious activity." Religion can be considered criminal in Uzbekistan if it "strays out of official, state-controlled Islam."

"A form of moderate, nationalist Islam has emerged in Tajikistan, however," the magazine says. The Islamic Revival Party (IRP), "the only legal religious party in Central Asia, [appears] to have maintained its commitment to give up weapons and work within the constitution," following a 1997 peace agreement to end Tajikistan's post-Soviet civil war. But the IRP "has little political influence," says the "Economist," as President Imomali Rakhmonov "has gradually consolidated power in his hands." While this has provided the country with some political stability, it is also undermining the development of democratic opposition parties.

The magazine says this culture of repression could further radicalize Central Asian populations, which may come to view Islamic extremists as the only viable political opposition.


In a contribution to the "Wall Street Journal Europe," Anne Mettler of the Geneva-based World Economic Forum says "greater European engagement" in Southeastern Europe is necessary "if Europe wants to preserve peace on the continent." Next month, the second joint summit of EU leaders with heads of state from Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Albania will take place "in the margins of the EU summit in Thessaloniki, Greece." Mettler says, "Much is at stake during this meeting."

EU leaders "must ensure that their policies actively promote peace and stability in the region," she writes. "Unfortunately, Europe's current policies may be indirectly contributing to the [Balkan] region's chronic instability." The EU "stubbornly refuses to do the one thing that would help reform-minded Balkan leaders the most: pledge to begin admitting Balkan countries into the EU, assuming those countries meet the stringent accession criteria." Mettler says the "absence of this pledge, which would cost the EU nothing, leaves reform-minded Balkan policymakers stranded." Reformists "must push through painful reforms," but at present they must do so with "painfully few" tangible benefits to offer their people.

Balkan leaders say they "are prepared to do their part," writes Mettler. "What is needed is sustained commitment, leadership, vision and passion," from European leaders. She asks, "How can Europe expect to be treated as a global player if it can't put forward a serious strategy for addressing a major foreign-policy dilemma in its own neighborhood?"


Writing in today's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Klaus-Peter Schwarz comments on the referendum to be held today and tomorrow in Slovakia on membership to the European Union. There is a general fear that voter turnout will be too low to render a "yes" vote valid. According to the constitution, participation of 50 percent of the country's 4.2 million registered voters is necessary to validate an election. Yet, says Schwarz, "there is little ground for thinking the Slovaks would miss the opportunity for joining the EU due to indifference, even given its history of consistently unsuccessful referendums."

In the event that the 50 percent threshold is not met, says Schwarz, we should not blame Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's government for campaigning too little or too late. His government actually won the day for Slovakia's future within Europe when conservative and liberal parties won the elections in September of last year. For the first time since the fall of communism, democrats triumphed over the populist Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the Communists.

Under the rule of Dzurinda's government, the Slovaks have succeeded in coming out of their isolation. Initially it was far from certain that Slovakia would join the first wave of nations to enter the EU. Now it is very likely to join in 2004 and, by 2007, this land that borders Ukraine in the east strives to be ready for the Schengen accords on the free movement of people between European Union member states.


An item in the British "Economist" weekly says arguments that certain foreign policy initiatives made by the West will either "feed" terrorist rage or remove their motives for mounting attacks are "misconceived" at best. "It would be a comfort to believe that Islamic terrorism rises and falls with each twist and turn of American foreign policy," the magazine says. "If so, America would need only to adjust its policy for the terrorism to stop. But its causes are more complicated than that."

In Palestine, Kashmir, and Chechnya, terrorist activity stems "from a Muslim struggle against non-Muslim rule." In Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Algeria, it is fed by "the desire of Muslims to throw off their own governments because they are seen as corrupt, repressive, or insufficiently pious." In the case of Al-Qaeda, terrorists believe "that Islam is locked in perennial jihad against the unbelievers."

Those prone to violence "will not be dissuaded by [an] adjustment in foreign policy," "The Economist" says. It notes that Osama bin Laden's "1998 declaration of war against 'Crusaders and Jews' came at a time of relative optimism in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking." This week's bombs in Riyadh "came less than a month after America said it would remove most of its forces from Saudi Arabia" -- long one of bin Laden's points of contention. "The Economist" says Al-Qaeda "will continue its attacks even if America pushes hard for peace in [Palestine], and it would not have stopped its attacks even if America had decided against invading Iraq."


Writing in France's daily "Le Monde," Mirel Bran says the issue of corruption now dominates discussions in Romania. For the past several weeks, Bran says the media, diplomats, and the political opposition have been "unanimous" in their demand that the government seriously tackle corruption, the "principle problem" in Romanian society.

But Romanian justice appears to be paralyzed when faced with this "plague," says Bran. The actions of a national anticorruption league, created last year, remain hesitant. After taking some minor steps, its president, Ion Amarie, publicly accused the media of being responsible for much of the problem. This opinion is shared by Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, who has pointed out on several occasion that journalists portray a negative image of the country.

In an unprecedented diplomatic initiative, the European and American missions in Bucharest have openly denounced the general climate of corruption, which Bran says constitutes "the principle obstacle to Romania's accession to the EU in 2007." The European Commission's progress reports on Romania in past years have cited the absence of an independent judiciary, corruption, and a delay in implementing economic reforms as subjects of concern.

So, Bran asks, what will spur Romania to make the necessary changes? Without a European perspective, Bran says, Romania might succumb once again to the temptation of installing a forceful regime in Bucharest, which could destroy the fragile democratic progress of the country.


Writing in the "Irish Times," former Irish ambassador to Israel and Egypt Eamonn Ryan says the United States must renew its effort to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Policies will need to be framed in a way which gives to the dignity and interests of Arabs a weight at least equal to those of Israelis and Westerners in what are, after all, Arab territories. The American approach so far to both Iraq and the Palestinians is plainly failing in that respect," he says.

Ryan contends it is a "weakness of political will" that has failed to provide a solution. A majority in Israel "could be brought to accept a settlement based on evacuation of the Gaza Strip and some 95 percent of the West Bank," he says. "On the Palestinian side, [the] right of return [ought] to be capable of a solution comprising a symbolic resettlement in Israel of a relatively small number of refugees plus financial compensation and rehabilitation for the rest." But "Despite this basic potential accommodation, both sides are mired in an escalating cycle of mutual violence and extremism."

He writes: "If there is anywhere a case where benevolent intervention by an outside power is needed today, this is it." And there is "only one candidate." The United States "is the indispensable military and economic support of Israel and the only power with the political clout to decisively influence both sides."

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