The road to US involvement has been traced to a radical policy shift over three days last weekend: last week, US diplomats were still consulting experts about how to respond to the crisis after mounting public pressure at home. They were told that following the victory of the Rwandese Patriotic Front, they must liaise directly with Kigali. For one thing, the relief effort necessitates resuming aid flights to Kigali airport. But the US was worried that would constitute public recognition of the RPF against the wishes of the pro-Hutu French government. President Francois Mitterrand's son, Jean-Christophe, served as Africa adviser to the Elysee, and he was a close friend of Juvenal Habyarimana, the former president of Rwanda killed in April.
'Then between Friday and Monday, everything changed,' said Roger Dunn of Control Risks consultancy. President Bill Clinton made his announcement on Friday; the next day, the RPF publicly recognised the validity of the French 'safe zone' operation; on Sunday, the US ambassador to Rwanda became the first Western head of mission to return to Kigali.
It appears certain that President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda - where RPF fighters were trained - 'used his influence to persuade the Front to recognise the French effort, and open the door to the US', Mr Dunn said.
The new President of Rwanda, Pasteur Bizimungu, yesterday followed up the rapprochement with the Francophone camp by meeting the Zairean leader, Mobutu Sese Seko. They agreed to ease the return from Zaire of more than a million refugees. Such a repatriation, relief agencies point out, would require the airport at Kigali to be in working order again to take aid supplies into the country.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has outlined six priorities for the salvation of Rwanda; Mr Clinton's food air drop, intended to impress US public opinion, does not meet any of them. It has in some respects delayed the effort.
A spokesman for Oxfam said the only governments to address the UNHCR priorities were those of Sweden and, to a lesser extent, Britain, which supplied a forklift truck for Goma airport.
He outlined the priorities as the offloading of equipment and runway extension at Goma airport; the supply of trucks; finding better sites for refugee camps; establishing defecation zones; finding and managing water tanks and repairing roads to enable water tankers to move. Much of this requires heavy earth-moving equipment. 'But,' the Oxfam spokesman said, 'we can't get the bulldozers because they are all being used to bury the dead.'
READERS can contribute to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal set up by ActionAid, the British Red Cross, Cafod, Christian Aid, Help the Aged, Oxfam and Save the Children. Contributions are shared and donations may be made by phoning 0345 222333 or by sending cheques payable to 'Rwanda Emergency Appeal', PO Box 999, London EC4A 9AA. The Care organisation can be contacted at 071-379 5247.