Multinational force sought for Zaire camps

November 06, 1994|By New York Times News Service

KIGALI, Rwanda -- United Nations officials say that if this tiny country is to be spared another war, an international force must be quickly sent to the refugee camps in Zaire, where soldiers and militiamen of the former Rwandan government are increasing their preparedness for war.

Forces of the former government are already making regular incursions into Rwanda and in some instances have ambushed the new government's soldiers, the commander of the U.N. troops here, Maj. Gen. Guy Tousignant, said in an interview yesterday.

As the former army continues to regroup and regain its strength, with food being supplied by the international community, the attacks are likely to increase in number and in military efficiency, General Tousignant said.

He said that three battalions, or some 2,100 soldiers, were needed to provide security in the camps in Zaire and disarm the former army.

Washington is actively lobbying within the U.N. Security Council for the deployment of a large force, said a senior U.N. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. But the official said he did not know what the United States was offering in the way of troops, money or materiel.

General Tousignant's assessment was shared by other senior U.N. officials.

"We are sitting on a volcano," the organization's ranking official in Rwanda, Shahyar Khan, said Friday before leaving for a meeting in Geneva, where the rapidly deteriorating security situation will be discussed in a meeting called by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Mr. Khan, the secretary general's special representative in Rwanda, said he would like to see a commando force of about 500 sent to Zaire immediately.

"We must separate the wolves from the sheep," Mr. Khan said about the need to get soldiers and militia members out of the camps.

The mission of an international force would be to disarm the regular army and militia of the former government and to move the soldiers, who are thought to number 30,000, into camps farther from the border.

The international force would also provide security in the camps so that refugees who wanted to return would be able to do so.

Many refugees have been prevented from returning by threats from the former government's militia, whose members now control the camps.

The Zairian government has promised on several occasions that it will disarm the former army and move it from the camps, as well as prohibit political activity in the camps by officials of the former government. But U.N. officials and aid workers in Zaire said the government there had done virtually nothing on any of these counts.

Soldiers wearing camouflage uniforms swagger through the camps, and they train in nearby forests. They still have most of their weapons, from rifles to artillery pieces, military vehicles and even three helicopters, which they took with them when they fled. And there is no doubt that they can buy whatever additional arms they need with money they looted from Rwandan banks.

Senior leaders in the former government, including the president, prime minister and defense minister, regularly visit the camps, delivering the message that the time is near when the people can go home behind their army.

Getting the money for an international operation -- it could easily cost $1 billion, General Tousignant said -- will not be easy, to say nothing of getting countries to provide soldiers.

It is a mission fraught with danger, even if it were limited to assisting the refugees in returning. The former Rwandan army, whose soldiers are mostly members of the country's majority Hutu ethnic group, could become "actively obstructive should there be organized convoys of returnees, and it is believed that they have the means to block such initiatives," Jorl Boutroue, the director of operations in Goma for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a memorandum to Geneva last month. He called for the urgent dispatch of an international force.

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