The UN and Rwanda

TINY Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, and the exodus of Rwandans from three weeks of slaughter there has overnight created huge refugee camps in neighboring Tanzania, one of which contains 250,000 people - and few resources.

The United Nations can and should respond quickly to help set up and administer these camps. But what to do about the war between mainly Tutsi rebel forces and government Hutu forces raises all the questions about intervention hotly debated over Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, northern Iraq, and other trouble spots: Should outside force be used to restore order in a sovereign country when genocidal conditions are in evidence? Should outside force be used if indigenous authorities have no interest in its use?

The scale of killing in Rwanda caused UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali last Thursday to call for UN troops to restore order. The Security Council voted down this suggestion Friday, preferring to condemn the killing of defenseless civilians. That death toll may be as high as 200,000 since the plane of President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was downed April 6.

Western capitals show little interest in getting into the middle of this fight. Prior to the evacuation, killing took place nonchalantly in front of journalists and aid workers. Those who argue for intervention must remember that only a few weeks ago, rebels told French and Belgian troops they would be fired upon; foreign nationals were asked to leave; and UN forces were reduced from 2,500 to a token 500.

Still, the number and scale of atrocities now found on the globe require that more thought be given to an international volunteer rapid deployment force. Western nations ought to have an articulated strategy. At the moment, foreign policy, at least in America, is a policy of reaction. Certainly there is some ground between the impossible task of ``policeman for the world'' - and doing nothing.

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