Larger U.N. force for Rwanda, refugee havens get U.S. backing

May 05, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration said yesterday that it would help finance and support an expanded United Nations-sponsored peacekeeping force for Rwanda and help create "safe areas" for refugees from the slaughter that has killed at least 100,000 in the past month.

The administration had previously said it would consider such financial and logistical support, but this was its first public commitment to provide it. The pledge came after demands from members of Congress for a more active U.S. response to the tragedy.

With a small force of U.N. troops in Rwanda under attack and relief agencies warning of a cholera epidemic among hundreds of thousands of refugees, the United States signaled readiness for wider involvement in one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. But the administration continued to rule out the use of any U.S. ground troops.

George E. Moose, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told a congressional panel yesterday that the administration was urging the formation of a peacekeeping force made up largely of troops from member states of the 52-nation Organization of AfricanUnity.

"We understand fully that for that to work, it will require significant support from outsiders, and in making and in urging that course of action, we have, I think, made clear our intention to provide our fair share of support, logistical, financial and other, to such an operation, should it be mounted," Mr. Moose said.

Members of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, which held the hearing, expressed support. "It is unforgivable and shameful to watch a whole generation of Rwandanese slaughtered in cold blood," said Rep. Harry A. Johnston, a Florida Democrat who chairs the panel. "It is time to act."

What the U.N. needs

State Department officials said details of the financial and logistical support for the proposed expansion of the peacekeeping operation would depend on the size of the U.N. force and its needs. The United States could engage either in a military airlift or charter civilian aircraft to get the troops and equipment there. But the major obstacle, without a peace agreement between the warring Hutus, who dominate the government, and rebel Tutsis in Rwanda, is the reluctance of many African countries to commit their forces.

U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has appealed to OAU Secretary-General Salim A. Salim to form an international peacekeeping force from the group's members.

On Monday, however, Kofi Annan, the U.N. undersecretary-general in charge of peacekeeping, told a Senate subcommittee that he didn't think the OAU was capable of mounting a peacekeeping operation in Rwanda.

Mr. Moose told the House panel: "It is understandable that many other countries would very much hesitate to put their troops into such a situation."

The Rwandan Patriotic Front, supported largely by the minority Tutsi tribe, has rejected outside intervention. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Paul Kagam, told reporters in Rusomo, Rwanda, yesterday that only a victory by his forces could end the massacre.

According to Mr. Moose, the front's main objection to a cease-fire is that the creation of truce lines between the two sides would do nothing to protect the front's Tutsi supporters trapped behind the majority Hutu forces, who have done most of the killing to date.

Government unyielding

Although the guerrillas appear to be winning the battle, the government military chief of staff, Augustin Bizimungu, was "even more hard-line" than usual in a conversation Sunday with Prudence Bushnell, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

Ms. Bushnell told the panel that the Hutu commander's "version of the truth" was that the killings were the result of "a spontaneous outbreak of civilian violence" after the Tutsi rebels moved from their positions north of Kigali.

Among other administration initiatives outlined by Mr. Moose:

* Consideration of U.S. asylum for Rwandan officials fearful of returning home;

* Pressure for a U.N. arms embargo on Rwanda;

* Up to $26 million in humanitarian aid, most of it announced earlier this week by the White House;

* Investigation and prosecution of human-rights abuses.

To advance this policy, a team of U.S. officials arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, yesterday for talks with the OAU about expanding the peace-keeping force and establishing the safe zones inside and outside Rwanda along the Tanzanian border.

There are 270 U.N. troops in Rwanda, the rump of a 2,700-strong force that was reduced for its own safety after the civil war reignited last month after the deaths of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi in a mysterious plane crash.

The Clinton administration supported the force reduction. The U.S. diplomatic team -- the U.S. ambassador to Rwanda, David Rawson; John Shattuck, assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs; and Brunson McKinley, deputy assistant secretary for refugee affairs -- is due to travel today to Arusa, Tanzania, where representatives of the Rwandan government and rebel forces are involved in peace negotiations through Tanzanian go-betweens. They could then "spin off" and go to Kigali to press the two sides to allow human rights monitors into the country, Mr. Moose said.

Hours before Mr. Moose outlined administration policy, leaders of relief agencies in the United States -- Africare, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children and World Vision -- appealed for an expanded U.S. response to the humanitarian crisis in Rwanda and other parts of Central Africa, and endorsed the idea of the United States' providing airlifts for the United Nations.

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