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French agonise on Rwanda strategy

THE French intervention in Rwanda appears to be more an offspring of the uneasy left-right 'cohabitation' in Paris than part of a planned strategy.

The decision to launch the humanitarian mission was made, according to government sources, after President Francois Mitterrand ambushed the centre-right government during the Any Other Business section of a routine inner-cabinet meeting last month.

France has traditionally operated a gung-ho Africa policy, which has repeatedly had French troops flying south to guard friendly governments against rebellion. But the Rwandan operation, which got under way two weeks ago, happened because the conservative government of Edo uard Balladur feared a political trap set by the Socialist President, diplomatic sources said.

The sources said a routine 'defence council', the inner cabinet comprising Mr Mitterrand, Mr Balladur and the Foreign and Defence Ministers in mid-June was the occasion for Mr Mitterrand to ask his ministers and political rivals to do something to halt the killing in Rwanda.

'When it got to any other business, Mitterrand told them they had to deal with Rwanda,' one source said. At first, the Gaullist Mr Balladur, Alain Juppe, the Gaullist Foreign Minister, and Francois Leotard, the Union for French Democracy (UDF) Defence Minister, were opposed to any French role in Rwanda fearing, as now seems likely, that French troops would inevitably be drawn into the conflict.

The picture painted by several sources is of conservative ministers who, fearing a political trap set by Mr Mitterrand, at first sought ways of stopping a Rwandan operation. Then, convinced a domestic crisis between the two branches of the executive could be more damaging, they decided to follow the President's wishes.

When Mr Mitterrand said France was planning to send troops, he said it would do so alone if necessary. Mr Juppe, who decided early on to climb on the intervention bandwagon, according to diplomats, said it would only do so as part of a UN effort, with troops of other countries moving in alongside French soldiers.

In the end, the French went in with Security-Council backing; help from elsewhere has been logistical. The first few days were a spectacular success, with the French welcomed by both the Hutu and Tutsi tribes.

Now, however, as the Tutsi rebels are gaining, the French troops have been ordered not to give ground. This will give the Tutsis cause to stress their early assertions that the French were sent merely to back the Hutu government which Paris has armed and supported in the past.

In Cape Town yesterday, Mr Mitterrand stressed the peaceful intentions of the French in Rwanda but his words also underlined the dangers. 'We are assuming that our troops are not going to be attacked,' he said. 'There is no reason why they should be . . . but they should not be at the mercy of adventurous acts by one side or the other. France is not at war.'

Leading article, page 15

Richard Dowden, page 16

(Photograph omitted)