Dangerous Sport

What the foreign papers are saying.
July 29 1999 3:30 AM

Dangerous Sport

Nearly all British newspapers led their front pages Wednesday with the first big European holiday tragedy of the summer--the deaths of up to 20 people in Switzerland while engaging in the adventure sport of "canyoning." Canyoning, a combination of rappelling and riding rapids without boats, sometimes described as whitewater rafting without the raft, has been banned in several U.S. states. The victims, mostly from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, were drowned in the Saxet River near Interlaken when a thunderstorm caused a flash flood in a ravine. The papers described canyoning as an "underground" sport with no official organization to check equipment, offer advice, or govern safety. To attract customers, companies promoting it promise maximum thrills with minimum danger. One Swiss company adorns its Web site with the slogan "Canyoning: no risk, much fun."

The Daily Telegraph of London reported Wednesday from Gnjilane in eastern Kosovo that American Navy and Army welders have repaired a statue of a Serb hero that was damaged by a mob of Albanian Kosovars. The statue of Prince Lazar, who led the Serbs to a legendary defeat in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, was lassoed and pulled to the ground by several hundred Albanians last Saturday. American naval engineers, assisted by Army colleagues, took the metal statue to their base camp and welded it together again. American officers said the work was intended to show Albanians and Serbs that the cultural monuments of both must be protected. "People need to understand that you can't destroy their culture and think that they will respect yours," said Capt. Larry Kaminski. But he admitted that this is a lesson that neither side is eager to learn. "This is the Wild West," he explained.

The Telegraph also reported from Pancevo near Belgrade that a U.N. team rejected Yugoslav government claims that NATO's bombing campaign caused an environmental catastrophe. The team concluded that severe air pollution existed before the air attacks, which had merely worsened it in some places. The Financial Times reported from Pristina that, according to estimates prepared for the European Commission, the reconstruction of all the houses damaged or destroyed in Kosovo during the past two years of conflict would cost around 1.1 billion euros (about $1.17 billion). A commission report said that of 204,585 housing units in 1,300 Kosovo villages, 119,500 were damaged, of which 78,000 were either severely damaged or completely destroyed.

In an editorial Wednesday, the Guardian of London said the warning by the United States, Japan, and South Korea that Communist North Korea will face "serious consequences" if it conducts another long-range ballistic missile test "carries the ring of desperation." The Guardian said, "It marks the latest low point in a largely unsuccessful process, begun in 1994, to persuade the Pyongyang leadership to stop building (and selling) weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems."

In France, Le Figaro of Paris reported explosive growth in the sale of mobile phones, which it described as a phenomenon without parallel in French commercial history. One million mobile phones have been sold since the beginning of June this year, bringing the total in use to 14 million. This number is expected to rise to 20 million by the end of the year, and by the year 2002, to 30 million, which is more than half the country's total population. Only two years ago, there were less than 1 million mobile phones in the country. Le Monde led on the European single currency, the euro, bouncing back against the U.S. dollar, with a gain of 6 percent over the past week after a fall of 14 percent since the beginning of January. In an editorial, the paper said the euro is now established as "one of the world's great currencies" whose ups and downs against the dollar are a minor issue. There is, however, a danger that in a future trade war the United States might force the euro up too high by playing the "weak dollar" card.

In Israel, Ha'aretz quoted defense sources as saying that peace negotiations with Syria are likely to proceed more quickly than those with the Palestinians because the issues are less complex and already fully understood by both sides. The sources also believe that President Hafez Assad of Syria "wants to bequeath his son and designated successor a legacy of peace, in order to facilitate the continued rule of his Alawite regime," the paper said.

An editorial in Ma'ariv criticized Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak for making "public and superfluous statements" about wanting to change parts of the Wye agreement, such as the timetable for Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank, without first talking privately to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. "A few more meetings like that held last night [between Barak and Arafat Tuesday] will be necessary before Arafat can be sure Barak is a partner toward whom it is worthwhile taking another step," the paper said.

In Beijing, the official China Daily put a positive spin on this week's talks between Chinese and American trade officials, saying that closer U.S.-China ties are "in the best interests of both countries." But when U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce David Aaron offered condolences over the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Chinese Foreign Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng replied that China still awaited a satisfactory explanation.

Alexander Chancellor is a columnist for the Guardian.