Leading Article: Not much relief for the refugees

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FINALLY the West knows what to do in Rwanda. We have a humanitarian tragedy. Not a messy tribal conflict, from which the United Nations forces fled last month rather than be seen to take sides. Now, a million deaths later, the issue is clear. Refugees are dying of disease and starvation. Suffering humanity, in its passive and acceptable form, has at last provoked clarity of vision and (almost) unity of purpose in the UN, Western governments and international aid agencies. The cash is coming through. A United States reconnaissance team arrived yesterday in Goma.

But even if the UN achieves its pounds 300m target we will be no nearer a solution while a quarter of Rwanda's population remains stranded in what must now be the nearest approximation to hell on this earth, believing it cannot return home. The international aid agencies know this. Barely able to keep up with the death rate as they load bodies on to trucks, they learn that among the first planeloads will be 20 million oral rehydration kits which 'mixed with uncontaminated water' can save a cholera victim. But where is this water? Only an army could provide the necessary supplies. At least President Clinton has dared to use the M-word, even if the first Americans to arrive in Goma stressed 'We're not into combat; it's a humanitarian operation only'.

Let's hope they're being economical with the truth. Humanitarian intervention sounds nice. But Operation Restore Hope in Somalia was ultimately hopeless, while a broader military purpose ensured that military protection of the Iraqi Kurds was effective. Only armies can protect relief supplies and aid workers; only the presence of an army will make refugees believe Boutros Boutros-Ghali's claim that it is safe to return home.

(Photograph omitted)

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