UN Scours for More Blue Helmets

Member states balk at sending troops into turbulence of Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire

THE United Nations is beginning a search for up to 18,000 new peacekeepers.

UN officials expect no trouble in recruiting 7,000 more troops for Angola, where a new joint peace accord was recently signed, or in finding 6,000 UN troops to replace US forces in Haiti when the climate is deemed stable.

The most difficult job will be to find the 3,000 to 5,000 troops needed for the more dangerous task of improving security in Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire.

[The situation took a more violent turn last Friday, according to Reuters, when clashes erupted in several camps. Truckloads of Zairean government troops moved into the camps Saturday.

Helicopters and ground parties also scoured the camps and surrounding bushland in eastern Zaire for a British aid worker and four local staff members who vanished in the violence Friday, according to aid workers.]

Former Rwandan Hutu soldiers and militias now control the distribution of most relief supplies in the camps. By threats and misinformation they have kept hundreds of thousands of refugees there from returning home. Well-stocked with equipment, arms, and food, the former Rwandan leaders are said to be gearing up for a renewed civil war in Rwanda.

The UN Security Council is expected early this week to approve UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's request for a small UN force to move slowly from camp to camp in Zaire. The troops would establish secure zones within each camp, take back control of humanitarian aid, and share factual data that may encourage refugees to go home.

In his new report to the Council, Mr. Boutros-Ghali says that 10,000 to 12,000 peacekeepers would be needed for the much riskier job of actually disarming and separating former Rwandan military and political leaders from ordinary refugees. He concedes that both groups would be likely to resist any such efforts.

He concludes that the smaller force with more limited goals is the ``realistic'' option. ``It's what his professional staff thinks can be done,'' a UN official explains.

Reluctant nations

Yet even recruiting the smaller force will not be easy. The UN had a difficult time assembling a Rwandan peacekeeeping force of 5,500 authorized by the Council last May. ``These are essentially paper documents because the bottom line is that member states just don't want to expose their troops to this kind of potentially dangerous situation,'' says Michael Barnett, a peacekeeping expert at the University of Wisconsin.

``I think expanding the peacekeeping force for Rwanda is going to be a tough sell,'' agrees Thomas Sheehy, an Africa expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

``The nations of the world added to the responsibilities of the UN much too rapidly, without giving it the resources and authority needed,'' observes Barry Blechman, a peacekeeping expert with the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington.

``As a result, you get this very stupid business of [the UN's] trying to do something even though that `something' is not enough to do the job...It's politicians wanting to appear to be doing something.''

The result, he says, is destroying the UN by making it look incompetent and impotent. ``Give the UN the resources to do the job, or don't do it,'' he says.

Yet David Smock, an expert on Africa at the US Institute of Peace in Washington, calls the situation in the Zairean camps desperate and says even a small UN presence with limited powers could help. ``The troops can reduce the level of intimidation,'' he says. ``They can assure freer access to true information about the situation at home [in Rwanda]. They can also recapture control of relief supplies. But they won't be able to disarm the militias and remove the invasion threat.''

Human rights groups and the UN itself say both civilians and soldiers inside Rwanda, which now has a Tutsi-led government, are responsible for revenge killings and the disappearance of some returning Rwandan Hutus. A new report by UN human rights investigator Rene Degni-Segui charges that such atrocities are widespread. The report also notes that more than half of the property in Rwanda that once belonged to Hutus is now occupied by returning Tutsi refugees.

The Kigali government insists it has little control over individual acts of revenge, sometimes committed by unsalaried soldiers and others impatient for local courts or an international tribunal to take up charges of past genocide and massacres.

The government says it desperately needs economic aid to build a civil administration, including a court system, and to enforce its policy that returning Hutus have first claim to the land they left behind.

Accountability sought

Yet Western aid donors want to see more signs of Kigali's democratic intent before opening their wallets. A meeting of potential donors scheduled for mid-December may be postponed for just that reason, says a UN Development Program spokesman.

In his Rwanda report, Boutros-Ghali argues that immediate aid for the Kigali government is vital, and says any new peacekeeping effort there must be accompanied by a strong parallel move to help former and present Rwandan leaders reach some kind of political reconciliation.

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