Rwanda, Now and Later

WE earnestly hope that by the time you read these words TV screens worldwide will be showing pictures of water gushing from a purification plant being rushed into operation at the Rwandan refugee camps near Goma, Zaire.

That would mean real progress in meeting the vast and immediate human needs of a million or more refugees there. But it will be far too soon to lessen the intensity of our actions and prayers in support of those who are suffering. It is perhaps enough to say that mass burials are the largest operation as yet under way.

In Goma, the aid effort, both airlift and on-the-ground distribution, badly needs better coordination. The United Nations has asked the United States to sort things out with a ``military-style operation.'' The ability of US forces to mobilize quickly and operate effectively will now be tested in a humanitarian, rather than military, context. This may represent an all-too-typical mission in the post-cold-war era.

While not stinting in immediate relief efforts, the international community must look ahead at how to stabilize the situation inside Rwanda and induce the refugees to return home. Many will need help to regain enough health and physical strength to undertake the journey. But equally important will be counteracting disinformation on the part of some elements of the ousted Hutu forces. Using radio broadcasts, and reportedly even through intimidation within the camps themselves, they are telling the refugees that they will be tortured and killed if they return.

Within Rwanda, private relief groups are already undertaking efforts to prepare for the returning refugees. A UN-mandated force of 5,500 peacekeepers is a necessity in building confidence that it is safe to return. Incredibly, UN members have not pledged sufficient troops as yet. This must be done speedily. Talks between the victorious Rwandan Patriotic Front and the ousted Hutu government, now ensconced in Kinshasa, Zaire, would also build confidence among Hutu refugees. So far, the RPF has refused.

In coming weeks, the US should and will do soul-searching as to the size and speed of its response to this crisis. It may be inadequate, but it does not suffer in comparison with that of the rest of the world community.

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