International Papers

The Diced Islands

Britain’s Independent on Sunday reports that pro-Indonesian militiamen fleeing from the multinational peacekeeping forces in East Timor are setting up guerrilla bases in Indonesia’s sympathetic West Timor. “They have supplies, weapons, sympathy and a population of supporters which they have moved into exile with them,” says the paper. “The already tiny country will be, in effect, partitioned, with the peacekeepers unable to secure the western areas of East Timor.” The head of Indonesian forces on Timor warned the international forces not to pursue militiamen into West Timor. He told the Jakarta Post, “The Indonesian Army will not stand still if our territory’s borderlines are breached.” (For a Timor primer, click here).

On the eve of Monday’s withdrawal of Indonesian troops from East Timor, the Straits Times of Singapore reported that in their last days on the island, Indonesian soldiers were seen selling what appeared to be either looted goods or redirected foreign aid at “exorbitant prices” to “needy East Timorese.” The paper said, “Whatever the source, it was clear that food was being sold to the highest bidder–and those with the right credentials. East Timorese who sided with pro-independence militias were either ignored or sold goods at sky-high prices.”

Less than a week after the murder in Dili of a Dutch journalist, British member of Parliament and former BBC war correspondent Martin Bell called on the press to voluntarily reduce their numbers in East Timor. In a column in the Independent on Sunday, he said, “The peacekeepers have better things to do with their limited resources” than to protect journalists. He also claimed that the number of news-gatherers in areas of conflict has become “unmanageable. News events get distorted under the weight of them. They bring an unacceptable increase in the risk of casualties from land mines, sniper fire and brigandage.”

Many papers around the world contrasted China’s ambiguous response to last week’s earthquake in Taiwan with Greece’s no-strings-attached aid to rival Turkey after that nation’s August temblor. The South China Morning Post of Hong Kong reported that Taiwanese officials accused China of slowing international rescue efforts by refusing permission to fly through mainland airspace. A Russian mission, for example, was forced to avoid China and to take an air route via Siberia, causing a 12-hour delay. The paper also said that Beijing has been asserting its sovereignty claim by “thanking foreign donors for offering help to ‘our country’s Taiwan area.’ ” Another attack on China’s humanitarian response came in the Jerusalem Post, which claimed that when Taiwan told China that it needed cash donations rather than rescue assistance, the mainland’s Red Cross offered a mere $100,000 in cash and $60,000 in relief goods: “small indeed, when compared with the $50 million Taiwan has given to help flood-victims in China in recent years.”

The Russian air force bombed the Chechen city of Grozny over the weekend in what the International Herald Tribune described as an attempt to “destroy Islamic militants based in Chechnya.” The militants have twice invaded the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan in the last month and are thought to be responsible for the apartment bombings that have killed 300 people in Moscow and other Russian cities. The Russian daily Kommersant said that the air raids show that “Russia will no longer capitulate to Chechnya but will only speak in the language of force” and concluded the raids have rendered the Chechen leadership “less bellicose.”

An op-ed in the St. Petersburg Times by a Russian academic proposed a bold solution to the Russian-Chechen conflict: Grant the territory independence. Calling the Chechnya uprising an “act of banditism” and a “civil war,” Boris Kagarlitsky said that independence for Chechnya would clarify the situation and make it much easier to resolve. “If we do declare Chechnya independent, we can create a real border between Chechnya and Russia, … that we can give international status. Such a border would be easy to fortify and control. It would also be easy to close. … Likewise, our government would have to guarantee full equality and respect for the civil rights of Chechens who choose Russia as their place of residence. Today, Chechens in Russia don’t have any clear status. Against such a background, there is an anti-Caucasian hysteria, which holds any person from that region responsible for the actions of soldiers in the hills of Dagestan. Racist paranoia doesn’t distinguish between rebel fighters and salespeople in the marketplaces.”

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s forthcoming Experience Music Project in Seattle could be in trouble if its British equivalent is anything to go by. The National Centre for Popular Music opened in Sheffield in March but is already threatened with closure after attracting fewer than half the visitors it expected. The Sunday Times said the museum was seen as “vital in helping the city to shake off its Full Monty image of dying industry and unemployment.” However, the museum is said to be too expensive and has been attacked for playing down the “sex and drugs” aspects of rock. “It is all a bit innocent,” Jenny Frankel told the Times. “You can get round it in about an hour, and you expect a bit more than that for £7.95 [$12.50].”