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Thursday, April 6, 2000

Japan’s new leader
emphasizes continuity

Bullet The issue: Japan has selected Yoshiro Mori as prime minister to succeed the stricken Keizo Obuchi.
Bullet Our view: Mori has pledged to continue Obuchi's policies, which is reassuring.

SCARCELY missing a beat following the collapse of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi last Saturday, Japan has quickly selected a new leader pledged to continue Obuchi's policies. Although Yoshiro Mori is hardly a figure to inspire enthusiasm, he symbolizes continuity, which is essential to maintain public confidence.

As secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Mori was the party's second-highest ranking official after Obuchi. His elevation to party president was quickly followed by parliamentary election as prime minister.

Mori, 62, is regarded as a conservative with considerable political skill who formerly served as trade minister. He was one of many politicians linked to an influence-peddling scandal in the late 1980s but has since managed to recover his political standing.

Mori specifically vowed to pursue Obuchi's policies aimed at revitalizing the ailing economy, which has been in recession for the last decade. This assurance was welcome news to the stock market.

Like many Japanese politicians, Mori has little experience in foreign affairs. He is unlikely to make major changes in foreign policy, particularly Japan's strong friendship with the United States. He is scheduled to meet later this month with Russian President Vladimir Putin and -- assuming he is still in office -- in July with the G-8 leaders at a summit to be held in Okinawa.

However, Mori may be little more than a transitional figure. The government is under pressure to call early parliamentary elections. The results of those elections will probably determine whether he will retain his job.

Opposition leaders view the coming elections as their best chance in years to defeat the Liberal Democrats, whose governing coalition has become unpopular. Despite Obuchi's efforts to spark the economy through massive deficit spending, the recession persists. Bolder reform measures may be needed.

However, the LDP has governed Japan for all but two years since 1955. Even though it has lost strength, the party will be difficult to supplant unless the opposition can unite.

Japan is the United States' chief ally in Asia, although the Clinton administration has seemed to slight the Japanese at times while courting China. The president should reiterate to the new prime minister that Washington values highly Japan's cooperation on economic and strategic issues.

War-crimes arrests
in former Yugoslavia

Bullet The issue: Western peace-keepers in Bosnia-Herzegovina have arrested the top wartime aide to former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for war crimes.
Bullet Our view: More arrests are needed to restore confidence in the international war-crimes tribunal in the Hague.

THE arrest this week of Momcilo Krajisnik increased public confidence in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in its effort to bring perpetrators of atrocities to justice. However, unless Krajisnik's arrest signals the beginning of a roundup of the numerous war criminals who are still at large, questions will remain about the tribunal's resolve.

Krajisnik was president of the Bosnian parliament before the Serbians exited the government and the war began in 1990. As the top aide to former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, he is accused of having driven hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Croats from their villages. He is held responsible for the massacre of hundreds of civilians, in addition to tortures and executions at prison camps.

Krajisnik was secretly indicted by the war-crimes tribunal in the Hague earlier this year. French peacekeepers in Bosnia arrested Krajisnik in a commando operation in the French zone of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Krajisnik had been living openly with his wife and children at the home of his parents.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson hailed Krajisnik's arrest as proof of the alliance's resolve. However, Karadzic, who also has been indicted for war crimes, lives in the same zone as the Krajisnik family, along with nearly 30 other indicted war criminals who remain at large. Gen. Ratko Mladic, the wartime Bosnian Serb military commander who is also under indictment, lives in Belgrade and frequently visits Bosnia.

Western peacekeepers seem to have been reluctant about pursuing arrests, perhaps fearing the risk of a resurgence of ethnic conflict or exposure of NATO troops to retaliation. That reluctance has caused some critics to accuse the tribunal of lacking resolve.

Karadzic's arrest could be a response to such criticism, but only if it is followed up with arrests of other war-crimes fugitives, including Karadzic and Mladic. The peacekeepers deserve praise for their arrest of Karadzic and encouragement not to quit there.

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