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US tardiness 'made genocide easier': Richard Dowden examines a catalogue of delays which prevented the world from helping Rwanda in time

THE OFFER by the United States to fly United Nations troops to Rwanda is the first glimmer of hope that a UN peace-keeping force will go to the country, even though the main war has been over for some weeks and the genocide they might have helped prevent was over two months ago.

A US State Department official confirmed yesterday that US military aircraft were being made available to fly troops from any country in the world to join a UN force in Rwanda. Lack of transport has been a crucial factor delaying the deployment of the force, Unamir, for more than two months.

US, British and French troops now appear as the saviours of Rwanda. But it was the failure of these three countries to support the UN force for Rwanda three months ago which allowed the disaster to grow to such catastrophic proportions.

Holly Burkhalter, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch/Africa, yesterday accused the US government of blocking and delaying the arrival of a UN peace-keeping force and now basking in glory by sending troops to rescue dying children. 'The US has been niggardly about peace-keeping but no one seems to worry about spending many many more times the amount of money now to save lives,' she said.

The US has committed an extra dollars 100m (pounds 66m) to the Rwanda relief budget of dollars 150m. Ms Burkhalter said that in May and June the Pentagon took three weeks to argue whether the transport of 50 armoured personnel carriers from Germany would cost dollars 5m or dollars 10m.

UN Resolution 918 setting up Unamir II was passed on 17 May, asking for 5,500 troops for Rwanda. African nations offered these but none was capable of getting them to Rwanda. They need logistical assistance and equipment. Only the US, France and Britain have that capability but none was forthcoming. When France acted in June it sent its own troops. This week they were followed by the US and the British but the prospect of Unamir II arriving to replace them was, until the US offer, as remote as ever.

Until this week there has been a force of between 300 and 500 Ghanaian troops and a handful from other countries who, under the leadership of Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, have braved the three-month battle for the capital, Kigali. General Dallaire has said repeatedly that he needed more troops while the fighting and the genocide was taking place.

There have been several other factors contributing to the delay. Some African countries offering troops would not deploy them without new equipment. One country offering 800 soldiers demanded 1,200 new rifles for them. Other countries have demanded payment upfront for peace-keeping, but the UN peace-keeping budget is already dollars 2bn short.

The most important factor has been US obstructiveness, which has delayed the UN on four occasions. First, the US insisted on the reduction of the UN force in April, when the killings began. Even though they could not have stopped the war, many observers in Rwanda at the time believe that UN forces could have curbed the massacres and saved thousands of lives just by being there.

In late May and early June, when the UN was discussing strengthening the force, the US demanded a study and told the Security Council to report back in three weeks. When African countries produced 5,500 troops for the force, Washington offered trucks but dragged out negotiations with the UN, arguing over the cost of hiring and transporting them.

'Now we are seeing US troops carrying babes in arms being portrayed as saving people from genocide when the US government would not permit non-Americans to go into Rwanda to stop genocide in the first place,' said Ms Burkhalter.