Clinton launches Rwanda rescue

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Bill Clinton yesterday announced an 'immediate and massive' build-up in US aid for Rwandan refugees, including an airlift centre in Uganda, creation of a safe water supply to fight cholera, and round-the-clock shipments of food, drugs and medicines.

Mr Clinton also pledged Washington's support for a new United Nations peacekeeping force to help the millions of Rwandans who have fled to neighbouring countries to return home. The President warned the new Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) government that international recognition would depend on the establishment of a broad-based administration that is committed to national reconciliation.

Mr Clinton said he had been told the disaster was claiming one life per minute, perhaps the world's 'worst humanitarian crisis in a generation'. The goals of the international community were to alleviate suffering as fast as possible, and to create conditions which would allow the refugees to go home.

The expanded US relief effort, starting at once, will cost around dollars 100m ( pounds 65m) and involve thousands of US military personnel, operating from Uganda, Zaire and the main European military centre in Frankfurt. No US troops are being sent to Rwanda itself.

As a first step to head off the threatened cholera epidemic, the Pentagon will despatch 20 million 'rehydration therapy packs' over the next 48 hours. A planeload of fork-lift trucks is also en route to the overstretched airstrip at Goma, Zaire, so that it can operate on a round-the-clock basis and get supplies to where they are needed.

Mr Clinton's announcement, after talks with top military and aid officials, follows criticism from relief agencies that the US and other Western countries had failed to grasp the size and urgency of the refugee crisis in Rwanda. Yesterday's moves are recognition that the US alone has the logistical capability to move on the scale required.

Although the rebel RPF routed government forces in three months of fighting and this week named a new government, hardline Hutus refuse to admit defeat. At a lakeside lodge in the Zairean border town of Bukavu yesterday, the chief justice of the Hutu government and a leading member of an extremist party allied to the government, said the Hutus would return by force if necessary.

'I think one year to stay in Zaire is easy if we have to,' said Eugene Rwamamucyo, a member of the central committee of the Coalition for the Defence of the Republic (CDR). 'But we will return. When we return we will return by war or by peace.'

Members of the former government and CDR officials deemed responsible by human rights groups for the slaughter of an estimated 500,000 Tutsis and Hutus, fled to Zaire this week after having taken refuge in the French 'safety zone' in south-western Rwanda. The presence of the officials in the area was a potential source of confrontation between the French forces involved in Operation Turquoise and the RPF who wanted the men arrested for war crimes. To avoid conflict, the French told the former officials to leave the area. '(Operation) Turquoise said Rwanda's leaders must leave and the people gave a response immediately by following their leaders out of the country,' said Dr Rwamamucyo. 'The people are with their leaders. They are not with the RPF.'

There are at least two million Hutus in refugee camps in Zaire, Tanzania and Burundi, compared with about 500,000 people still in the 75 per cent of Rwanda controlled by the RPF. Many left the country after radio broadcasts by extremist Hutus warned them that the RPF forces would kill them if they stayed. Others fled because they had a role in the massacre of Tutsis and feared retaliation.

'The real meaning of RPF is recover power by force and that is what they have done,' said Charles Nkurunziza, the chief justice in the Hutu government.

Looting for survival, page 9

Leading article, page 10

(Photograph omitted)

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