By Seumas Milne
Thursday April 15, 1999
As Nato embarks on its fourth week of 'humanitarian war' over the immolation of Kosovo, similar disasters around the world are attracting rather less attention. In East Timor, illegally occupied by Indonesia since 1975 in defiance of the United Nations, state and army-sponsored militias have massacred hundreds of civilians in recent weeks, in an apparent effort to prevent a UN-organised referendum on the territory's future.
More than 200,000 people - around a third of the population - are estimated to have been killed since the Indonesian invasion. David Ximenes, deputy leader of the Timorese liberation movement Fretilin, remarked this week: 'We have had our own Kosovo here for the last 23 years.' The parallels between the treatment meted out by Serbia to Kosovan Albanians and Turkey's war on its Kurdish minority are even closer - except that in the Turkish case, it has been on a larger scale. The Turkish war against Kurdish PKK guerillas - Turkey's own Kosovo Liberation Army - has so far claimed 30,000 lives, driven three million Kurds from their homes and razed 4,000 villages to the ground.
This week, Turkey sent a 5,000-strong force, backed up by fighter aircraft and attack helicopters, to hunt down PKK units in northern Iraq, where United States and British bombers have also been in action again, ostensibly to protect Iraqi Kurds from Saddam Hussein.
And while Nato bombs rain down on Yugoslavia, Israeli warplanes have also been back in action in Lebanon against Hizbullah fighters in and around the Lebanese territory it has held for the past 21 years - along with the Syrian and West Bank territory it has occupied for rather longer - in violation of a string of UN resolutions. Meanwhile, Israel has accepted 112 Kosovan refugees, while well over two million Palestinian refugees and their families are still unable to return to their homes, in some cases, more than 50 years after they were forced out of them.
There is no lack of other Kosovo parallels around the world. The significance of these particular current acts of repression and war is not simply that the West is failing to act against the three states responsible - but that all are long-standing staunch Western allies and continue to be armed and funded by the US, Britain and other Nato states, even while the occupations and atrocities roll on. Indeed, in the case of Turkey, which also illegally occupies half of Cyprus, it is not only a Nato member, but is actually an enthusiastic participant in Tony Blair's 'war of values' against Yugoslavia.
That is not an argument for air strikes against Jakarta, Ankara or Jerusalem. But if Nato's self-proclaimed new internationalism is to amount to more than a modernised version of gunboat diplomacy and Liberal imperialism, it must at least mean that Western support is withdrawn from those states carrying out some of the very crimes for which it says it has gone to war with Serbia.
Nothing of the kind, of course, is going to happen. But what credibility can there be in a policy which claims to be based on a moral imperative, but only punishes ethnic cleansing and human rights abuses by regimes that refuse to toe the Western line?
This is the fourth air assault on a sovereign state by the US, supported by Britain, in eight months, following those against Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan. None was carried out in response to aggression against another state and none has been sanctioned by the UN.
Even by Nato's own lights, this war has scarcely been a success. It has self-evidently generated a worse humanitarian disaster than the one it was supposed to bring to an end - a point horrifically underscored by yesterday's aerial slaughter of refugees - failed to contain the conflict and shows every sign of risking a wider war in the region.
By attacking an independent state over government-sponsored repression within its own borders, Nato has created a powerful but potentially ominous precedent. The emerging consensus that there must be some scope for human rights-based interventions will be destroyed unless they are made exclusively on the basis of recognised rules and explicit support from the UN or other universally-accepted regional bodies. Without those safeguards, the risk must be of increased international conflict, as governments become judges in their own cause and the world's most powerful states commandeer the new doctrine to promote their strategic interests.
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