Return of Rwanda's refugees Crisis changes: The humanitarian challenge remains grave.

November 19, 1996

WITH SOME HALF million Hutu refugees streaming back into Rwanda from camps near Goma in Zaire, north of Lake Kivu, the greatest stream of uprooted humanity in one place in this tragic century is taking place. The International Committee of the Red Cross thinks hundreds of thousands of stragglers remain on the road or lost in the countryside.

These people chose their homeland, governed by a hostile Tutsi-led army, over exile ruled by thuggish militia from their own Hutu families. The final onslaught by Zairian Tutsi guerrillas and Rwanda forces separated the people from the militia, who fled west.

The trek entails huge risk for the refugees and transforms the humanitarian challenge facing the United Nations, for which Canada has been organizing a military response. Another half-million Hutu refugees who fled camps south of Lake Kivu are parts unknown. After aid workers fled their camps, under military assault, most of these refugees followed.

All this and more will confront the planners from the participant nations who will convene tomorrow at the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada was adamant yesterday that the imperative for the mission still exists. Such reluctant participants as the United States, South Africa and Eritrea were not so sure.

It is clear that the need for food, safe water and medicine is very great in the short term. It is equally clear that well-meaning nations will need to maintain political pressure on at least three fronts in the months to come.

One is to ensure that no power re-arms the trouble-making Hutu militia. A second is to hold the Rwanda regime of the Tutsi strong man, Paul Kagame, to its stated good intentions toward the returning Hutus.

A third challenge is to prevent this crisis from turning into an

international war of revenge by Zaire against Rwanda and Uganda, whom many Zairians blame for their own loss of effective sovereignty. No power should give Zaire the means to wage it.

The United States was not in a position to show leadership during its election campaign, and is not now, with the president in Asia and his foreign policy team in disarray. Canadian leadership is welcome to all.

The need now is less to show the flag than to distribute food, water and medicine. Every government said it wanted the refugees to go home. Good faith requires making that return as untraumatic as possible.

Pub Date: 11/19/96

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