Paris ready to send troops to Rwanda

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The Independent Online
FRANCE cleared the decks for military intervention in Rwanda yesterday, brushing aside the opposition of one of the warring parties, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).

Pleading that its mission would be 'strictly humanitarian', the government said it was willing to commit up to 2,000 troops to Rwanda. 'Every hour counts,' President Francois Mitterrand said in Paris. UN authorisation was 'getting under way, it is only a matter of hours and days'.

France circulated a draft United Nations Security Council resolution which would allow its troops to use force in a humanitarian intervention. Alain Juppe, the Foreign Minister, said yesterday that he hoped the Security Council would decide by tomorrow to give France the go-ahead.

The plan has received some support from the US, which offered logistical help, Italy, which said it was willing to send troops when an international mission had been agreed, and three Francophone African countries. It has backing from Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General - an apparent admission the UN's own plan, backed by a Security Council Resolution, to send 4,500 troops may take effect too slowly, if at all. France is keen to have full UN backing and support on the ground from African troops, but with only French-speaking countries in support, Paris's policy is in danger of splitting in Africa along Anglophone-Francophone lines.

The UN commander of 450 troops in Kigali, General Romeo Dallaire, appeared sceptical of the French plan. Asked if French troops could make a contribution, he said: 'I flat out refuse to answer that question. No way.'

UN workers and other aid workers in Kigali have expressed concern, believing the plan would make their jobs more dangerous. The main problem with French intervention is the RPF who yesterday denounced the plan as 'sinister' and said French troops would be considered hostile forces. The RPF sees the French decision as an attempt to prevent their military victory, and recall that it was intervention by French troops in 1990 and 1993 which helped to block their advance on the capital. They also point out that France maintained President Juvenal Habyarimana as head of a Hutu one-party state in Rwanda for 20 years, and armed and trained the army which is in part responsible for the pogrom of Tutsis that still continues.

A French diplomat in New York said yesterday that France was trying to convince the RPF representatives there that it had no hidden agenda and would not take no for an answer.

France, which has forces in Djibouti and the Central African Republic, could deploy the Foreign Legion. Officials are not disclosing details of the plan, but the only way into Zaire for a French force is through eastern Zaire. This would require the agreement of President Mobutu Sese Seko, a supporter of Hutu domination in Rwanda in the past. Eastern Zaire has a similar problem to Rwanda and Burundi, with Tutsi exiles clashing with local communities over land and power. Tens of thousands died in a little-reported fighting last year and the conflict has not been resolved. French interference in the region could spark it again.

There was heavy fighting in Kigali yesterday where RPF forces bombarded the city.

(Photograph omitted)