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Give France the benefit of the doubt and its decision to send 2,000 troops to Rwanda still looks like the triumph of good intentions over good judgment.

The move is understandable to the extent that it represents revulsion over the continuing bloodshed in the small central African country and the failure of Rwanda's neighbors and the United Nations to act more expeditiously. France, after all, is acting promptly while the U.N. is still putting the finishing touches on its decision to dispatch 5,000 of its blue-helmeted troops to Rwanda.But the fact remains that 2,000 troops - or even 7,000 - are not nearly enough to bring lasting peace to a war-torn country of 7 million. Only with broader participation could the French effort succeed. But so far only Senegal has committed troops and Egypt has said it is willing to take part. Belgium, the former colonial power in Rwanda, has warned France not to get involved. Nearly two dozen aid groups also have spoken out against the intervention.

The French insist their objective is only to protect "threatened populations," mostly frightened women and children. But it's just about impossible to protect one group of Rwandans without antagonizing another group. Even the group France is trying to protect question Paris' motives. While France has a long history of military intervention in Africa, it has almost always sent its troops either to keep struggling dictators in power or to protect its own citizens. In Rwanda, French troops in 1990 helped thwart a rebel offensive against the Hutu-dominated government considered responsible for most of the current massacres. Hence the present skepticism on the part of the 8,000 members of the minority Tutsi tribe in the Cyangugu region.

If the French succeed in what proves to be a genuine humanitarian gesture, it will deserve global applause for accomplishing in Rwanda what the United States was unable to accomplish on Somalia. But Somalia showed the pitfalls of outside intervention and history has an unfortunate habit of repeating itself - particularly when people forget or refuse to heed its lessons.