Paris ponders the logistics of intervention

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OPERATION Turquoise, in which 2,000 French troops are to fly to Rwanda, is expected to begin before the end of the week. The United Nations Security Council should decide today or tomorrow how it views the operation.

In spite of its codename, it is unlikely the French really want it to be wearing blue helmets, under UN control. A 'UN-blessed' force - like the Americans in Somalia - is the favoured option and, failing that, a French national contingent with minimal support from other European countries.

French military sources said they were disappointed not to have received support from other European nations, notably Britain and Belgium.

Britain and the UN view the prospect of French troops getting involved in the civil war, whether or not under UN colours, with trepidation.

Yesterday a diplomatic source said it may 'queer the pitch' for any subsequent UN operation. The plan is also reported to be unpopular in the French Defence Ministry, which faces serious over- stretch, with some 5,000 troops in Bosnia, 1,200 in Senegal, 600 in Gabon, 800 in Chad and others deployed elsewhere in the world.

French military sources said that they had received orders over the weekend to say nothing about the planned intervention in the Rwandan civil war which, it is estimated, has already cost half a million lives. The plans were drawn up a week ago, the sources said.

The French troops will come from the Force d'Action Rapide, from two divisions: the 9th Marine Division and the 11th Infantry, earmarked for the intervention role. The French Foreign Legion, with forces based in Djibouti, is not expected to be involved.

France also has 1,200 troops in the Central African Republic (CAR), and some of these will form part of the intervention force, with the rest coming from France. The force in Bangui, capital of the CAR, has 16 armoured cars available and mortars and guns.

The only way into Rwanda for an intervention force is by air, and French military sources said the troops would have to be more lightly armed than those in Bosnia.

The sources said that the force would have to be transportable by air but ruled out the use of paratroops to secure a landing site in advance. The French were involved in the last large-scale use of para troops at Kolwezi, Zaire,

in 1978.

There is only one large hard airstrip in Rwanda, at the capital, Kigali. The French are unlikely to land here, because the city is split between the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front, which opposes French intervention, and government forces. Other fields have runways more than 3,000 feet long and should be able to take the Transall transport planes used by the French, but their condition is uncertain.

One option might be for the French to land in Zaire, where they have had troops before, and cross the border. Goma airfield lies just across the border from Rwanda.

Ambassadors from the Western European Union defence group meet in Brussels today to consider the French plan. A similar meeting last Friday failed to produce pledges from French allies that they would send troops.

While some have offered financial or logistical support, none seems willing to offer forces for a mission that could involve combat in a faraway country where they have no important interests, diplomats said.

'I would be very surprised if anyone else joins the French in what will be a very dangerous mission,' said one diplomat.

At Friday's meeting, Italy was the only country which mentioned the possibility of sending troops. Italian officials say that, while Rome does not exclude taking part, it would do so only if other allies joined. That now looks highly unlikely.

The French President, Francois Mitterrand, said some African countries had agreed to join the expedition to the former Belgian colony. Senegal is among them. Britain has said it could provide 50 trucks, but no personnel

to drive them, the Foreign Office said yesterday.