Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Boutros: Twelve nations to join forces

Rome (Reuter) - Canada was ready to lead a multinational force in Zaire, the United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, said yesterday, adding that he was optimistic progress was being made to end an "intolerable" tragedy. He expected more than 12 countries would make up the Canadian-led force, and hoped the United States would provide logistical support.

He had been in contact with Canada's Prime Minister, Jean Chretien. "I express my gratitude to Canada. Canada has accepted to command these multinational forces ... Canada is a very neutral country."

Mr Boutros-Ghali said South Africa's President, Nelson Mandela, and some European states, including Italy, had also agreed in principle to commit troops to a humanitarian force.

"We are in contact with Canada, Italy, France, Spain and we hope also to have logistical support from the United States." The size of the force had not been decided but Mr Boutros-Ghali said: "People are talking of between 10,000 and 12,000."

Mr Boutros-Ghali said he was confident a Canadian-led force, with African participation, would prove acceptable to Rwanda's Tutsi-led government, which has refused to agree to leadership from Paris. the government says that French troops sent in 1994 to help end the genocide protected Hutus who were blamed for the slaughter.

France has pushed hardest for troops to be sent to Zaire to open humanitarian corridors in order to get food and water to starving Rwandan and Burundian refugees and displaced Zaireans. The French have attacked the US for dragging its feet.

Britain has said that it will take a preliminary decision in the next "couple of days" on whether to contribute personnel to a proposed humanitarian force in Zaire. "It looks likely that there will be an international force and there will be interest here in contributing to it if we can [and] if there is a workable military plan."

Spain's Foreign Minister, Abel Matutes, said that the UN might give a green light within 48 hours to the deployment of a multinational force in Zaire. Spain was prepared to send 300 soldiers to secure humanitarian corridors and would consider whether to send more later.

In Nairobi, Kenya's Foreign Minister, Kalonzo Musyoka, said he planned to visit Zaire's ailing President Mobutu Sese Seko, who is convalescing at his villa in Nice, France, after treatment in Switzerland for prostate cancer.

The Organisation of African Unity's Committee for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution met last Monday in Addis Ababa and said it regretted that the UN Security Council had not deployed a neutral multinational force, as urged by an African summit last week in Nairobi.