As the UN Security Council was expected to give approval for 'Operation Turquoise', the Prime Minister told the National Assembly that France was obliged to intervene to stop 'one of the most unbearable tragedies in recent history'.
President Francois Mitterrand first said last week that France wanted to intervene to halt the slaughter. After a brief mission with Belgian troops two months ago to rescue foreigners in Rwanda, the French government initially said it would not become involved in any military operations there.
As the idea of intervention progressed, opposition - first from the Tutsi rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and then from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) - as well as doubts by aid agencies have plunged the French into uncertainty with fears that Paris may be opening a diplomatic and military Pandora's Box.
European diplomatic sources in Paris yesterday said European Union countries generally supported the French initiative. 'They've focused attention on Rwanda and that's all to the good,' said one. 'They're occupying the moral high ground.'
The RPF opposes any French presence because of French support for the mainly Hutu government in the past. The daily Le Monde said yesterday that France's military support to Kigali since 1990 had been 'particularly large and often discreet, if not clandestine'. This had included penetration by French paratroopers, officially training in Rwanda, into Uganda to carry out reconnaissance of RPF bases, the newspaper said. Alexis Kanyarenge, the RPF leader, said intervention 'could set the entire region ablaze'.
Mr Balladur said in parliament that France, which has promised 2,000 troops for a UN force which only Senegal has so far said it might join, had to act 'because of its old and continuing ties of solidarity with Africa and because it cannot let the African civilian population suffer genocide'.
The conservative daily Le Figaro said that the OAU's opposition clearly stemmed from fears that France was really seeking neo-colonialist influence on the continent. The OAU refusal 'has overturned the diplomatic mechanics', wrote Charles Lambroschini, the newspaper's foreign editor.
Mr Balladur laid down five principles for French involvement in Rwanda. They were: UN approval; that the operation have a strict time limit (he suggested the end of July for a withdrawal); that French forces be stationed in Zaire and not in Rwanda proper; that all operations be confined to humanitarian action with no missions into the Rwandan interior; that other countries promise to send contingents to help the French force.
One point in France's favour, diplomats said, was that Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, frustrated at the lack of movement over Rwanda, personally backed Paris's initiative. That said, even within France's governing conservative coalition, there is dissension. In the National Assembly, Jacques Baumel, a deputy for the Gaullist RPR party, said: 'Whatever humanitarian reasons there may be, one could ask why we should set off alone in this far-off adventure when for three years we have allowed the Bosnians to have their throats cut two hours' flight time from Paris on the pretext of not wanting to add war to war.'
Gaullist deputy Alain Peyrefitte, a former minister and a Academie Francaise member, said 'we should not hide the fact that an intervention by Europeans in black Africa could provoke a rejection, or at any rate suspicion'. But Charles Millon, the president of the centre-right Union for French Democracy parliamentary group, expressed his approval of the government's plans, saying it testified to France's honour.Reuse content