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SWITZERLAND



Published: Mon, August 13, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Le Matin, Lausanne, Aug. 7: Once upon a time there was a city called Grozny. That was five years ago. One day, the Chechen rebels launched an attack to retake their capital from the Russians. The Chechen victory opened the way for negotiations. On Aug. 31 the war was over, and Chechnya a de facto independent state. Five years later, two years into a new war, the situation has changed. The war has allowed the former secret policeman Vladimir Putin to install himself in the Kremlin, Russia is in no mood to lose, and the younger brothers of the first war's independence fighters have risen up. But above all, the idea of a rebel military victory now seems impossible.

Criminal treatment: On its side, Russia has its hands tied. The policy of outrageous criminal treatment of civilians by its troops, sweep operations that it finds harder and harder to cover up and two years of refusing to negotiate have driven Moscow into a corner.

A Russian victory would do nothing to lift the specter of another war, and the population would find it difficult to accept defeat. Talk to Maskhadov, the rebel Chechen president? How do you negotiate when you say you want "to kick the Chechens back into the sewers."

It is a paradox, but there has never been a greater chance for negotiations. Because Putin has no upcoming elections to fight and because, whatever the outcome of the war, the Kremlin knows it has already lost Chechnya.

IRELAND

The Irish Times, Dublin, Aug. 7: The Belfast Agreement, and the very peace process itself, may have been rescued from the brink by the IRA's proposals to Gen. John de Chastelain's decommissioning body. The missing element from last week's package of measures has now been made manifest, at least in part. But there are imponderables in the equation which should have the effect of dampening any tendency towards immediate euphoria.

These "other things" must mean the actual putting of weapons completely and verifiably beyond use. What the IRA has given thus far -- and not for the first time -- is words, not guns. The immediate question now, in regard to the viability of the agreement, is whether this can be sufficient for the Ulster Unionists to agree to return fully and in time to the institutions.

Paramilitary arms: The IRA's demarche must be welcomed, for all that it does not yet deliver actual weapons and despite the fact that the objective of decommissioning paramilitary arms is more than a year behind the timetable signed up to in the agreement.

It undoubtedly represents a considerable achievement for Mr. Gerry Adams and the Sinn Fein leadership and confirms their continuing ability to bring the larger, so-called "republican family" with them. It remains to be seen what is to be be done -- in practical terms-- with the IRA's arsenals. Final judgment will have to await that revelation.

AUSTRALIA

The Sydney Morning Herald, Aug. 8: That 24 foreign and local aid workers, including two Australians, are facing the death penalty in Afghanistan for "propagating Christianity" is further evidence of the determination and brutality of the Taliban regime. The Taliban, which is carving out a hardline, isolationist Islamic state, has been shadowing the Christian relief agency Shelter Now International for some time. During a raid on its Kabul office on Monday, police netted Christian literature translated into the local Dari language, a Bible and two computers, alleged evidence the organization was going beyond its welfare brief and seeking converts among Afghanistan's poor.

The plight of the aid workers highlights the fine line between the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid and the export of the donors' value system, including religion. Western Christian missionaries once believed they had a duty to "civilize the savages" and their proselytizing efforts ravaged traditional societies across the globe.

Humanitarian aid: Christian aid organizations remain active but have shifted from aggressive efforts to convert, to concentrate on humanitarian aid. The delivery of aid, often in areas where no other help is available, is both a noble and Christian pursuit. But the use of aid organizations to gain access for conversion is not. For this reason, some nations, such as China and India, have imposed restrictions on visas for Christian missionaries.

In Afghanistan, aid organizations must work within the laws of one of the world's most restrictive regimes. Efforts to convert Muslims attract the death penalty under the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islamic law. As one aid worker, with experience in Afghanistan, has said: "Shelter Now International must have known it was courting trouble."




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