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PLAN FOR U.N. MILITARY INTERVENTION IN RWANDA HAS SEVERAL TRICKY SNAGS

SHARE PLAN FOR U.N. MILITARY INTERVENTION IN RWANDA HAS SEVERAL TRICKY SNAGS

When viewed cynically, the proposed U.N. military intervention in Rwanda boils downs to a single point: African nations provide the troops, and the United States pays for it.

U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has asked about 10 African heads of state whether they can provide troops to help end the bloodshed in Rwanda. The United States is ready to back such a U.N. operation financially and organizationally.Boutros-Ghali's plan appears to be a clever way out of the Rwandan problem, even if it's not an ideal solution. Large numbers of heavily armed U.N. troops could protect refugees and civilians more effectively than the rump unit of 270 blue berets stationed there now.

Moreover, the U.N. would not let itself be accused of ignoring the deaths of blacks in Rwanda while actively getting involved in saving whites in Bosnia.

The Organization of African Unity, which wants to participate in the military action, could finally prove that it's not totally ineffective in tackling conflicts.

But the proposal has several snags. The U.N. would allow itself to be involved in another military adventure in Africa and, as in Somalia, things in Rwanda are totally unpredictable.

The attitude of the Rwandan government troops is unclear. The extremist militias held responsible for a large part of the massacres accept no authority.

Recently they forced a U.N. convoy taking 300 refugees from the battle area to safety in Kigali to turn back. The rebels of the Patriotic Front are firmly against any external intervention; for them, the only solution is military victory against government troops.

The example of Liberia shows how ticklish such an intervention can be. The West African Peace Troops, known as "white berets," got involved in that conflict and are caught in a struggle against the rebels.

Another problem: Which African countries should be asked to ready troops for Rwanda?

Most of the neighboring countries hardly come into question. Uganda allegedly supports the rebels. Burundi is already affected by the tribal conflict between Hutu and Tutsi, and Zaire's troops proved to be an undisciplined bunch that took to plundering during an earlier action.

The states that are acceptable aren't showing much enthusiasm.

In case there is military intervention, it could still come a bit too late. Up to 200,000 Rwandans have already been gunned down, beaten to death or hacked to pieces.

"The right moment would have been four weeks before when the massacres began," says a rebel spokesman. "Then the U.N. had 2,500 troops in Rwanda, but they did not interfere to save people."

The U.N. defends itself against this charge by asserting that its peacekeepers had neither the equipment nor the mandate to hinder the killings.