The U.N. commander is bracing for one of his greatest fears: a "human tidal wave" that may soon surge out of Rwanda and leave as many as 2 million refugees in neighboring Burundi.
As the rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front push government forces and their supporters out of the rest of the country, the southwestern corner of Rwanda is filling up rapidly.Nobody really knows how many displaced people there are. More than 300,000 have fled into neighboring Tanzania. Thousands of others have gone to Zaire and Uganda. And Burundi, Rwanda's tiny neighbor to the south, already has been swamped with vast numbers of Rwandans from earlier fighting.
The principal role of the U.N. force here is humanitarian. Once a cease-fire goes into effect, the millions of homeless will have to be dealt with and dealt with quickly.
"We're planning for a scenario of about 2 million," said Maj. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian who commands the U.N. force in Rwanda. It could be 1.5 million. Or it could be 3 million. It's anybody's guess.
"But 2 million is a reasonable figure to consider," he said.
More than 200,000 people have been killed in Rwanda since President Juvenal Habyarimana, a member of the majority Hutu tribe, died in a mysterious plane crash April 6.
Following his death, government-trained Hutu militiamen, sometimes supported by army troops, went on a rampage, massacring an estimated 200,000 civilians, mostly members of the minority Tutsi tribe or anti-government Hutus. The carnage reignited the government's war with the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front.
Even if there is a cease-fire and people begin returning to their homes, they will have no food. Crops have not been harvested. Homes have been destroyed. People will have to begin again in this largely agricultural country.
Sporadic shelling inside Rwanda Tuesday forced another suspension of U.N. activities.
It was the fourth straight day U.N. peacekeepers were unable to carry out evacuations of civilians from the capital and the third in which they were unable to receive any flights with supplies for their troops and thousands of people under their protection.