AS France pursues virtually alone its proposal for a military-led humanitarian intervention in Rwanda, it faces conflicting pressures that could haunt it throughout an operation as potentially risky as the United States-led intervention in Somalia.
France - which has sought United Nations backing for the intervention - is motivated by a self-image as a world leader with a responsibility to respond to crises, especially in parts of the world where it has a traditional role. French officials also admit privately that their push for a ``muscular humanitarian intervention'' is in response to media-fed public opinion - similar to the pressure President Bush faced when he sent US troops to Somalia.
At the same time, the effort faces suspicions of those who see France as a former colonial power in Africa with a partisan, pro-government past in Rwanda. Though Belgium was the colonial ruler in Rwanda until 1962, France provided military support to the Hutu government as it fought rebel incursions between 1990 and 1993.
``France... is flying to the assistance of executioners now at bay,'' says Jacques Bihozagara, European representative of the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), in a communique from Brussels. ``[France] will succeed, as in the past, in deceiving international opinion.''
Diplomatic and humanitarian-assistance observers estimate that more than 500,000 have died in the past two months of savage fighting between the governing Hutu and minority Tutsi, with Hutu troops and militias seen as responsible for the preponderance of the killing.
The UN Security Council appeared likely to approve by June 22 a French resolution authorizing ``all necessary means'' for a military operation to protect Rwanda's civilian populations.
French officials said June 21 that a rapid-deployment force of 1,000 to 2,000 troops was preparing in the Central African Republic and that forays into Rwanda could occur by June 25.
But even Security Council approval will not mean widespread enthusiasm for the French plan. French President Francois Mitterrand said on June 18 that several African countries were prepared to participate, and he expected a favorable response from European partners. French officials indicated Italy, Spain, and even Belgium were likely to participate.
An ambassador-level meeting of the Western European Union, the European Union's military arm, was to take up the issue on June 21, but initial reaction showed little support and even marked resistance to the French plan. Italy, originally considered a likely participant, indicated through its defense minister that it would not join any ``unilateral action'' by the French, but left the door open to intervention backed by an ``international accord.''
And Belgium is flatly opposed to participation. ``We speak from experience,'' said a Belgian diplomat, referring to the April massacre of 16 Belgians, including 10 soldiers, presumably at the hands of the Hutu government. ``The government continues to excite the population with calls over radio and through its militias for a `Belgian hunt,' so clearly we will not be sending troops.''
Noting the RPF position that the French are coming to the rescue of their enemies just as the government is losing substantial ground on the battlefield, the diplomat said that French motivations ``appear to be completely humanitarian,'' but added, ``One could wonder why the French are becoming interested now.''
That whiff of suspicion appeared in New York as well, where several Security Council members expressed strong reservations and seemed particularly concerned about negative reaction from other African countries. ``Not everyone thinks the French have purely humanitarian motives,'' said one UN diplomat.
Those doubts stem from France's policy in Rwanda in 1990-93, when it provided the government several hundred military advisers and substantial military hardware. Most observers now fault the French for failing during that period to make even simple diplomatic contact with the RPF.
THE French emphasized the intervention would assist both Hutu and Tutsi civilians and sent envoys to convince rebel leaders of their impartial intentions. But the RFP, suspecting aid to the besieged capital of Kigali could end up reinforcing the government, said they refused to meet the envoys. The French originally said any intervention force would have to be international, but now seem to feel Council approval will provide the ``international green light.'' ``If the Security Council votes this resolution, it will show that this is an international operation and not a unilateral intervention by France,'' said Richard Duque, the Foreign Ministry spokesman.
French officials insist the operation would last perhaps two months, until the approved UN assistance mission of 5,500 African troops could be deployed. As for whether the French intervention risks sinking into the kind of debacle US troops experienced in Somalia, Mr. Duque said, ``I don't think the two situations can be compared. But we should also remember,'' he added, ``that the Somalian operation was ultimately a success, was it not?''