Western powers loath to send in troops

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The Independent Online
The United Nations Security Council agonised yesterday over what to do to prevent the turmoil in Burundi exploding into all-out civil war as the main Western powers continued to show no willingness to contribute ground troops to any intervention force.

The Council is haunted by events in neighbouring Rwanda in 1994, when conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes led to the massacre of hundreds of thousands. Neither has it forgotten the largely disastrous UN peace- keeping efforts in Somalia and Liberia.

The UN Secretariat has, meanwhile, said it is trying to assemble a military force which could be sent to Burundi to restore order and prevent further killings.

The effort is being led by the Under-Secretary-General for Peace-keeping, Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian, who envisages a force of perhaps 20,000 soldiers that could attempt to create areas in which members of the different tribes could find shelter.

"We have to move very quickly before everything blows up in our faces," Mr Annan said in New York.

"As it is, history will judge us rather severely for Rwanda. I don't think we can repeat that experience in Burundi. What we need and what we are seeking now is the political will to act." He suggested that any force should be UN-funded.

However, Mr Annan knows that without the commitment of troops and military leadership by one of the Western powers, preferably the United States, Britain or France, putting together a sufficiently credible force will be difficult.

He noted that the UN erred in both Somalia and Bosnia in the early stages of both operations by sending in only 50 unarmed observers.

So far, however, there is still no sign of any Western government reversing public statements vowing to keep their troops out of Burundi. The US and Britain have sent military experts to the area and have offered to provide logistical and transport assistance should any force be created.

"It is the Somalia-Liberia scenario all over again," a Western diplomat said. "Nobody in Burundi wants outside intervention, so do you impose yourself? And if you do, what is your mission when you get there?"

President Bill Clinton, who faces elections this year, will be especially cautious of involvement in Burundi.

After weeks of canvassing governments about a peace-keeping force, Mr Annan has so far mustered commitments for a battalion each from Malawi, Chad and Zambia.

He hopes additional troops can be provided by the countries most involved in regional political efforts to find a settlement, namely Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda.