Stung by criticism, U.S. speeds plan to equip U.N. peacekeepers in Rwanda

June 16, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Reacting to criticism that Washington has responded too slowly to the killing in Rwanda, the Clinton administration has speeded up plans to equip United Nations peacekeepers there with armored personnel carriers, officials said yesterday.

The administration also has decided to describe the deaths there as genocide, after once instructing its spokesmen to say only that "acts of genocide may have occurred."

The armored vehicles for the expanded peacekeeping mission are to be taken from U.S. Army stocks in Germany. Administration officials had said it would take three weeks to transport the vehicles to Uganda, a delay that would put off the deployment of African peacekeeping troops in neighboring Rwanda.

But administration officials said a plan was approved yesterday at a White House meeting to move the vehicles to an Air Force base near Frankfurt and begin flying them to Uganda on Sunday.

Even as the White House was putting the finishing touches on its plan, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee prepared a letter to President Clinton urging him to acknowledge formally that genocide is occurring in Rwanda. The letter, which is to be sent today, was signed by virtually all the committee members, including Sens. Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat, and Jesse Helms of North Carolina, the senior Republican.

Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans have been killed since April 6,when the mysterious crash of the Rwandan president's plane set off mass ethnic and political killings.

The issue of the personnel carriers arose last month, when the United Nations sought 50 of them for the Ghanaian vanguard of a planned force of 5,500 peacekeepers, mostly African. Only 450 lightly armed peacekeepers are now deployed in Rwanda, far too few to ensure the safety of people in the capital.

While the administration has ruled out sending U.S. troops to Rwanda, it is willing to help equip the force to ferry civilians to safety.

During his recent trip to Europe, Mr. Clinton said that Washington would "provide the armored support necessary if the African nations will provide the troops."

But while the Clinton administration was willing to provide M-113 armored personnel carriers, it insisted that the United Nations reimburse Washington for use of the vehicles, spare parts and shipment to Entebbe, Uganda, where the United Nations would take control.

The talks appeared to have hit a snag when the Pentagon recently raised its cost estimate by 50 percent and insisted that the United Nations also pay to fly the vehicles back to Germany. The cost rose to $15 million -- $11 million for transport.

The United Nations balked at the increase and proposed that the vehicles be returned by ship.

Administration officials said yesterday that the issue had been resolved, essentially in favor of the United Nations: The cost will be about $10 million, and the vehicles will return by ship.

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