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Western Press Review: Bush's Trip To Africa, Moscow Concert Bombing, And Dangers Of Small-Arms Proliferation

Prague, 7 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Much of the focus of the Western press today is on Africa, as U.S. President George W. Bush is scheduled to begin a five-day, five-nation tour of the continent. Bush's trip commences amid ongoing speculation that U.S. troops will soon arrive in Liberia to help quell the violence there. Attention today also focuses on the weekend's double suicide bombing at a Russian rock concert, which left at least 16 concertgoers dead. We also take a look at recent events in Iraq and the innumerable dangers proliferated worldwide by the spread of small arms.


An editorial today says: "For too long, Washington and other Western capitals treated Africa as if it were condemned to war, poverty and preventable epidemics." As U.S. President George W. Bush begins a five-day tour of the continent, the paper says he seems to understand "that Africans are entitled to a better future, and that America can help them achieve it."

But turning this vision into reality "will take more than whirlwind tours and inspiring speeches," says the paper. Bush must pressure Congress to provide ample funding for the various initiatives, and he should "speak plainly with African leaders about steps they themselves need to take."

The paper writes: "More than 11 percent of the world's people live in sub-Saharan Africa. Their future depends on how well their countries handle the intertwined problems of HIV-AIDS, ethnic and civil conflict, corrupt and abusive government and economic growth too feeble to provide jobs for rising populations. In each of the countries Mr. Bush is visiting -- Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria -- one or more of these issues belongs high on the agenda."


The British daily's Declan Walsh says U.S. President George W. Bush's trip to Africa will "briefly focus world attention on Africa's often ignored plight. [But] will it leave a sense of change or just more hollow rhetoric?" asks Walsh.

"The U.S. is generous to Africa in many ways," he says. But much of the aid it donates comes "with small print." Critics of Bush's trip today "fear the U.S. will use its contribution to wring intellectual property concessions out of poor countries, and a row has flared about its use of [genetically modified] food aid."

Walsh says there are "other contradictions" inherent in the West's dealing with Africa. "Despite the image of famine, large swaths of Africa are covered in rich [pastures]. Yet due to U.S. and European trade barriers, it is practically impossible for them to sell their produce abroad." Meanwhile, oil "remains a quiet preoccupation for the U.S. president," as he seeks access to West African reserves. But Walsh says if Bush "really wants to make a difference, he could make sure the oil revenues are spent well this time. That would be more valuable than all the platitudes about democracy and corruption."


In a contribution to the international daily, author Alexander McCall says if African nations are to tackle effectively the many problems facing them, Western countries must forgive Africa's debt.

McCall says Bush "has shown his concern for AIDS in Africa and has made some very welcome commitments to the struggle against the disease. The United States has allocated major funds for this purpose, and the president deserves praise for this. But it is important to bear in mind that a disease like this requires African governments to commit a great deal of resources to combating it. In order to do this, they need to shift funds from other parts of their tiny health budgets, and they cannot very easily do this because in many cases they are busy servicing crippling debt."

McCall says if the West wants Africa to be able to control AIDS and other diseases, "debt forgiveness must not slip out of sight."


Health correspondent Oliver Wright of the London-based daily warns that aid for health services and development in Africa must not be wasted on "grandiose schemes and unrealistic projects." He criticizes aid agencies that approach problems in Africa with a Western-centric attitude that ultimately undermines good intentions by making many plans unworkable.

Wright says some aid agencies have dictated that in order to receive drug treatment for AIDS, a patient must get blood tests from doctors four times a year. This stipulation would be fine in the West, says Wright, but it is "stupidity in Botswana, where there are just 600 doctors in a country with an estimated 1.6 million population."

Even worse, he says, is that aid money is often spent "in an absurd way." He says a new children's aid clinic in Botswana cost $3 million to build. Yet for the same amount, "dozens of more basic clinics could have been built." The hospital's supporters argue that Africa deserves the same quality facilities as the West. But Wright says in practice, this one new expensive hospital will result in more children throughout the country "dying from AIDS because they live too far away to get to the clinic for treatment."


An editorial in the Boston-based publication says the U.S. cannot and should not intervene militarily wherever it is asked to do so -- but Liberia "is a clear instance where it should."

Liberia was founded in 1847 by freed American slaves who sought repatriation to Africa. But the past 14 years of war have devastated the country, and President Charles Taylor has been indicted for war crimes. Nigeria has offered Liberian President Taylor asylum, and the paper calls on Taylor "to resign and leave Liberia." But it says, "Whichever country receives him should then deliver him up for trial reasonably soon."

The UN and several West African nations are asking the U.S. to send around 2,000 troops to the country to join a force of 3,000 West African soldiers already deployed.

"Ending the fighting may take time," the paper says. "Once stability is restored, U.S. troops should quickly be replaced by UN peacekeepers. But the U.S. must stay politically and economically involved in Liberia for the long term."


An editorial in "The Moscow Times" says the two female suicide bombers responsible for explosions at a rock concert over the weekend (5 July) may "have been driven by revenge," as was the widow of a Chechen warlord, Arbi Baraev, who took part in the seizure of a Moscow theater last October. At least 16 concertgoers were killed in the weekend blasts.

"Close relatives of rebels killed in fighting or civilians abused by federal servicemen in Chechnya are the easiest prey for those who plan such attacks," the paper says. "The attackers die while the organizers go on to recruit more volunteers."

Yet it remains unclear "whether the organizers really believe that suicide attacks will eventually force the Kremlin to withdraw forces from Chechnya or whether they have to prove their capabilities to their sponsors, as Russian authorities maintain."

But given Russian President Vladimir Putin's tendency to respond to such acts with hard-line tactics, "no one should expect the Kremlin to change its policy and begin negotiations with the rebels over the loss of a dozen innocent lives in a terrorist act."

Moreover, says the paper, "there is no sign of any public outcry over either the performance of the law enforcement agencies or the abuses in Chechnya where the root of this tragedy lies."

The paper goes on to comment that many concertgoers "stayed listen to the rock bands and drink beer even after learning about the suicide bombings, rather than show respect for the dead."


Rachel Stohl of the Center for Defense Information discusses the dangers posed worldwide by the proliferation of small armaments. "Across the globe, civilians are systematically terrorized by armed bands, insurgent militias, informal rebel armies and even by their own governments. Small arms and light weapons [kill] more people each year than conventional weapons like bombers, tanks and gunships," Stohl says.

"Of the estimated 300,000 small-arms deaths in conflicts every year, the majority are civilians." And the long-term costs of small-arms proliferation are very high. "Economies decline in the face of continuing armed conflict, governments falter, infrastructure deteriorates and development aid dries up."

Moreover, access to small arms is a "[prerequisite] for terrorists; they turn what might otherwise be motley collectives into up-and-running armed factions. Machine guns and automatic rifles confer status on fringe players who want to be taken seriously."

This month, governments from around the world will return to the United Nations for a follow-up to the 2001 conference on combating small-arms proliferation. But "[it] is imperative that states take their global obligations on small arms seriously. Standardizing export controls, preventing middlemen from circumventing legal channels and improving the tracing of the flow of weapons worldwide would not only deter the illegal transfer of small arms but also make it easier to capture and punish those who participate in such activities."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" warns that U.S. officials must level with the American people or risk losing public support for the Iraq campaign. "Historians will record the U.S. lightning march to Baghdad this spring as a great military achievement, but unfortunately the weeks since have shown that our victory remains incomplete." The paper says the sooner U.S. President George W. Bush "acknowledges and explains this truth, the quicker the public will rally to support him in the challenge that lies ahead."

The editorial continues: "There is every reason to believe that the U.S. will eventually defeat this Baathist-terror counterattack, as completely as it did the Republican Guard in April. [And] for all of the damage the counterattack is doing, life continues to improve for most Iraqis, especially in the south. But the first step toward that victory is recognizing the challenge, and explaining it to America with the same thoroughness and candor Mr. Bush displayed before he committed U.S. troops."

The U.S. "public won't turn against the U.S. commitment in Iraq merely because of casualties," says the paper. "But it will turn if it thinks its leaders aren't being honest with them about the challenges we face or the sacrifices required to prevail. One certain way to undermine public trust is to fail to recognize that the systematic murder of friendly Iraqis is a sure sign of guerrilla war."


In a joint contribution today, Ali Abunimah of and Hussein Ibish of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee say the "most important challenge facing the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq has been to create an aura of legitimacy among Iraqis." The U.S. "cannot be perceived as a colonial presence. If that is the conclusion reached by most Iraqis, history provides little hope for anything other than a painful, violent and drawn-out fiasco."

After suffering "more than a decade of crippling sanctions, misrule by Baathist officials, destruction during the war and the predictable but massive vandalism and looting in its aftermath, the Iraqi civilian infrastructure has yet to receive the serious attention both political and humanitarian considerations demand."

The U.S. administration's "almost apathetic approach to health care, energy, sanitation and education has cast doubt on its commitment to ordinary Iraqis and undermines rhetoric about 'liberation.'"

Today, "anger and confusion is mounting in Iraq about the failure to achieve minimal levels of services and public order that were available even under Saddam Hussein."

The authors says the simplest way "[to] get out of this emerging mess is to bring the international community, especially the UN, as well as Arab states, into serious and meaningful roles in the nation-building effort. This would add instant legitimacy and reduce the specter of colonialism, ease tensions [and] reassure Iraqis that their future was not in the hands of a single foreign power."


France's leading daily "Le Monde" says two more U.S. soldiers were killed in Baghdad in two separate attacks last night, bringing the number of Americans killed to 29 since the U.S. announced the end of major combat operations on 1 May. "Le Monde" says within this "tense" context and amid growing concern over normalizing the situation, the chief U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, now seems willing to accept the creation of an Iraqi council with real executive powers, while the U.S. administration will reserve the right of a veto for the time being.

In June, Bremer had suggested the formation of an Iraqi political council of between 25 and 30 members, which would act as an advisory council to the Anglo-American occupying administration and prepare for a referendum on a new constitution. But this plan had provoked anger among Iraq's political groups, who felt they were being marginalized by the United States and limited to the role of a consultant in Iraqi affairs after 35 years of domination by the Baath Party.


Writing in Belgium's "Le Soir," Nathalie Mattheiem says U.S. President George W. Bush has turned his attention to Africa, and is now considering sending troops to Liberia. With the war on terrorism, Mattheiem says, Africa may be regaining some of the strategic importance it lost since the end of the Cold War.

Bush has already pledged $15 billion to help stop the spread of AIDS in Africa. But even this aid, coupled with $200 million in urgent aid for famine relief, does not place U.S. aid to Africa at the level of Europe's, she says. The U.S. president believes in development through business, she says, and supports initiatives such as rewarding good governance with aid and abolishing trade tariffs.

The situation in Liberia is now considered a U.S. security issue, in addition to the history that unites Liberia with the United States. Several considerations have converged to refocus American attention on the region. The trafficking of precious stones through and from the continent is one means of funding for groups such as Al-Qaeda, which is already responsible for several attacks on U.S. interests on the continent.