EU under fire for failure to intervene in Rwanda

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The Independent Online
THE crisis in Rwanda led to calls yesterday for a European intervention force and stiff criticism of the way the European Union has responded to the disaster so far.

Washington announced that the number of US troops assisting Rwandan refugees will soon grow from 750 to 4,000 in the coming days and could go higher if a 'way station' system is set up to help refugees return home, the Defense Secretary, William Perry, said.

The EU has been a substantial aid donor to Rwanda, and yesterday stumped up more cash. But France, the European Parliament, and some Commission officials, believe it has been too slow, has failed to provide a military presence, and has been divided in its reaction. Edouard Balladur, the Prime Minister of France, yesterday proposed a mechanism that would allow Europe to intervene in humanitarian disasters. 'France will preside in the European Union from January onwards and I think we should try to set up a permanent force to play this kind of role,' he said.

When France turned to its partners in the Western European Union, the EU's putative defence arm, for support during its military intervention in Rwanda, it received no firm replies. Mr Balladur, who yesterday left for west Africa, said the EU's policy was inadequate. 'Europe must have the means to be more efficient than we have been,' he said.

The Commission yesterday announced an increase in its aid to Rwanda and countries affected by the civil war there - another 75m ecus ( pounds 63m), taking the total to ecu250m since the crisis began in October last year. Adding bilateral aid, the EU has given more than ecu300m. But the latest cash has been raised from money already assigned to other developing countries, as the budget for urgent humanitarian assistance has been emptied.

Announcing the aid yesterday, Manuel Merin, Commissioner for Development, said that the EU and other organisations had failed to prevent a disaster in Rwanda. 'The Rwandan conflict is proof of the complete failure of international mechanisms to prevent conflicts,' he said. 'Humanitarian aid must not turn systematically into a smoke screen to hide the lack of political decisions that should have been taken to avoid this tragedy.' Some EU officials feel that European efforts are overshadowed by US activism.

Bernard Kouchner, the former French development minister turned MEP, is today leading a group of Euro-deputies to Rwanda, including the head of the British Conservatives, Lord Plumb. The parliament yesterday issued a statement criticising the EU's inactivity, and demanding more rapid action in future crises, following a hearing where the EU came in for strong criticism.

Mr Kouchner, the new chairman of the European Parliament's Development Committee, yesterday called for more cash, a new humanitarian force and rules to permit speedier intervention.