The first British reconnaisance teams, including 40 specialists from various branches of the armed forces, leave today. Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence, told the Commons: "We must prepare ourselves now for action".
Last night, Lieutenant-General Maurice Baril, the Canadian Armed Forces commander designated to lead the proposed international force for eastern for Zaire, set clear limits for its operations last night saying it would remain in place for no more than six months before its replacement by a follow-up force.
The exact objectives of the international force, which may be up to 15,000 strong, were being thrashed out in New York and at a foreign ministers' meeting in Paris.
The force will operate under UN Charter Chapter Seven, giving it tough powers to engage local forces if necessary, although most of the Western powers providing troops, including Britain, want to concentrate on helping refugees and delivering aid. But aid agencies yesterday said the force must have a mandate to disarm the Interahamwe Hutu militia and former Rwandan government army, which have been terrorising refugees.
"Without the mandate, the force will only deal with the symptoms and not the cause of the tragedy," Oxfam said.
The US has said it will secure a three-mile corridor between the Rwanda- Zaire border and the refugee camp and airport at Goma, just inside Zaire. The corridor will enable aid to be brought in and, Western planners hope, the Rwandan refug-ees to start returning home. But most of the refugees - Hutus who fled Rwanda and who fear returning because they believe they will suffer reprisals for the genocide of two years ago, and displaced Zaireans - are now further west, and other troops will need to go further into Zaire and find them. Some are reported to be heading for the isolated Kisangani airfield, which might also become a base for the force. If so, it would need a large force to secure it.
The three airfields in the immediate area - Goma, Cyangugu and Bukavu - are small and will, initially, be vulnerable. US and British planners are looking at Nairobi in Kenya and Entebbe in Uganda as major airfields where huge stocks of relief supplies and military equipment can be based and then flown the relatively short distance into Zaire.
The local militias do not have many heavy weapons and the intervention force will need a large number of infantry with relatively light vehicles. They will also need many medical staff, logistics troops and engineers to restore or set up water supplies, repair bridges and create an infrastructure which can sustain a vast population already dying from hunger, dehydration and disease.
Military sources yesterday confirmed that Britain had been planning to send three battalions as part of a powerful force up to 3,500 strong, and Michael Portillo, Secretary of State for Defence, said the force would be based on a brigade of roughly that size. The headquarters of the British component is expected to be that of 5th Airborne Brigade, based in Aldershot, commanded by Brigadier Graeme Lamb, 43. The Chief of Operations of the Joint Rapid Deployment Force, Brigadier Jonathan Thomson of the Royal Marines, may be the senior British commander in the theatre.Reuse content