THE massacre of more than 100,000 people in Rwanda in recent weeks and the resulting mass exodus pose a major new test for the international community's will and ability to enforce peace in a country ravaged by civil war.
Hope for the moment rests on efforts to start a new round of peace talks in Tanzania and involve member states of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in the search for solutions.
Both tasks will be difficult. The rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front had not sent a delegation to talks in Tanzania by press time May 3; the RPF said it would boycott talks until the United Nations replaced its mediator, Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh of Cameroon, who they say was biased. Similar attempts to engage the two sides failed last month when the interim government boycotted the talks.
And OAU involvement in peacekeeping may well require a cease-fire first, which could only be reached through negotiations.
``The OAU wants to be more involved [in solving Africa's problems],'' says David Smock, an Africa expert with the US Institute of Peace, ``but the situation in Rwanda has deteriorated so badly that the OAU might very well be reluctant to get in the middle of a crossfire.''
Fighting between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi raged on May 3 as government forces pounded rebel headquarters in the capital of Kigali. Violence broke out after the aircraft carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down April 6, killing both leaders and reigniting old ethnic tensions. Hundreds of thousands have fled to neighboring countries.
The OAU, acting in response to an April 29 request for help from the United Nations Security Council, is expected to convene soon a high-level meeting of a new conflict resolution group to consider ways to end the bloodshed. One response may well include the dispatch of OAU peacekeeping troops that would serve under UN auspices and operate under the usual UN financial formula. [The Clinton administration announced May 2 that it would contribute $15 million to an emergency fund to assist refugees.]
After a telephone call April 30 from UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the current chairman of the OAU, sent an urgent appeal to all African heads of state, asking them to consider new answers to Rwanda's plight. ``We'll have an in-depth exploration of all possibilities,'' insists Nabil Elaraby, Egypt's ambassador to the UN. The OAU is expected to ask the UN Security Council to reconsider the UN's controversial April 21 decision to reduce from 2,500 to 270 the number of troops in the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) and to toughen the mandate. Under the recently revised mandate, the troops were to do little more than help deliver aid and monitor developments.
The Council acted on what it considered a realistic assessment of safety concerns and a shortage of troop contributors. After 10 of its soldiers were tortured and killed last month, Belgium pulled all of its more than 400 soldiers out. Belgian Foreign Minister Willy Claes said the UN mission had become ``powerless.''
Yet the Council's decision to keep a symbolic force was viewed as tantamount to a withdrawal. Rights groups, nonaligned nations, OAU Secretary-General Salim Salim, and eventually Mr. Boutros-Ghali himself, protested loudly.
In an April 29 letter to the Council, Boutros-Gali urged member states to consider ``more forceful'' action to restore law and order in view of the ``human catastrophe'' rapidly developing in Rwanda. He said there was strong evidence that new massacres were being planned. In a subsequent decision, the Security Council asked Boutros-Ghali to consult with the OAU on ways to restore order and contain the fighting.
Meanwhile, a new attempt to get a cease-fire in Rwanda was to be made at the May 3 meeting in Arusha, Tanzania. The need is not for a new peace accord but for guarantees to implement the broad-based coalition government called for in the Arusha agreement of August 1993. The original UN peacekeeping force was sent under that agreement. Yet guaranteeing the old peace may prove difficult. By some estimates the Tutsis now control as much as half of Rwanda. Hard-line Hutus have killed many moderate Hutus who favored coalition.
Tanzania President Mwinyi says the Rwanda crisis demonstrates once again that traditional UN peacekeeping has outlived its usefulness and that the UN must take ``firm action'' to stop the killing.
Mr. Smock calls Rwanda a classic illustration of the new challenge in peace enforcement. ``It's not peacekeeping,'' he says, ``but if the international community is not prepared to step in between the warring factions, the result can be disastrous.''