One Man's Indictment May Be Another's Political Windfall

By Nora Boustany

Friday, May 28, 1999; Page A25

Canadian Judge Louise Arbour, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, has worked independently and diligently for the last five months to come up with an indictment of the villain du jour, the man we love to hate, on charges of crimes against humanity. Is it a political decision in the end, as Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou suggested yesterday? Many wonder: Will Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic be politically stronger or weaker in the wake of his indictment as a war criminal? Seen through the prism of Washington and its allies, of course, the indictment could rattle Milosevic's hold on power and marginalize him, while sending a message to people around him that their turn may be coming.

 According to the Greeks, it is not so simple. Papandreou told Washington Post editors and reporters: "You know all about indictment and impeachment. It is a double-edged sword. [President] Clinton became more popular." Will Serbs start running away like mice from a sinking ship, the Greek diplomat asked, or will they band around Milosevic and say, "We have to survive and fight until the end"?

 From within Yugoslavia, he said, the military action by NATO countries "is not seen as a war for human rights, it is seen as a war against Yugoslavia to help Albanians gain secession. Milosevic has become the rallying point, even for people who do not like him." Milosevic himself will see the move as a grand plot, Papandreou said.

 He added that the indictment had come at an "inopportune time" and is a complicating factor, because there is a negotiating process underway on a diplomatic end to the Balkan crisis, and Milosevic would have been part of the solution.

 Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy told Post editors and columnists yesterday, however, that the indictment of Milosevic and members of his entourage takes the war in the Balkans to a new phase. The stakes are very significant, he added. Axworthy said "human security principles," another way of saying human rights, have become the new way of leading the world. The indictment, he said, underlines these principles, and the quest for accountability of individuals has been enhanced.

Regarding the course of the war, Axworthy said questions have been raised about the effects of NATO's bombing, which is being monitored to see if it is in sync with diplomatic efforts. "Some errors have been made," he conceded, "but errors have been made in politics and war." Axworthy advised that world leaders now have to "move from the humanitarian problem to the resolution problem." The Canadian diplomat, who spoke with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright over the weekend and again at lunch yesterday, said NATO may have to "move to the United Nations soon" to see what options there are on how U.N. influence could be manifested.

 Papandreou said China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, will not accept a U.N. resolution on a peace proposal without a temporary pause in the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Such an interruption would be "useful to get Russia and China on board," he added.

You Can Take the Envoy Out of Washington, but . . .

There were many tears Wednesday at the Brazilian Embassy as Ambassador Paulo-Tarso Flecha de Lima prepared to depart for another assignment. He was sniffling a bit, too, as he took leave of his devoted staff. In 5 1/2 years in Washington, he survived a brain hemorrhage -- in summer 1995 -- and nursed his country's prospects through one of its deepest economic crises. This very special diplomat, who was supposed to be in retirement anyway, never gave up and soldiered on. The friendliness and pleasant demeanor that were his trademark never left him as he continued to attend receptions -- helped in and out of his limousine by aides -- and as he scanned crowded reception halls with both hands resting on a cane, always finding something interesting to observe or something nice and meaningful to say to whomever stopped by to chat.

 The ambassador is moving to a less demanding posting in Rome. "I leave with a feeling of mission accomplished," he said yesterday. "I bear witness to a fantastic stage in our relationship. America has left an indelible mark on our heart," he said of himself and his wife Lucia, surrogate parents and confidants to Diana, Princess of Wales, who stayed at their residence when visiting Washington after her divorce from Prince Charles.

 "It is not true what they say that Washington is only about power," Flecha de Lima said. "We think there is a lot of affection here. We were showered with it. I think I will enjoy Rome, but Washington has been very important. I improved my negotiating skills -- at the World Bank, the U.S. Department of Commerce, at the State Department and on the Hill." He will not come back, he said. "Everything has its time in life."

 Flecha de Lima was given the Victory Award by the National Rehabilitation Hospital for his courage and indomitable spirit in overcoming his infirmity.

Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company