With new reports of 250,000 refugees pouring into Tanzania to flee the carnage in Rwanda, U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali implored the Security Council on Friday night to set aside its reluctance and dispatch enough troops to the central African nation to halt the sweeping massacres.
But his plea to end “this humanitarian catastrophe (that) is rightly a matter of growing anguish in Africa and the rest of the world” comes at a time when the United States and other Security Council members are hesitating to commit any more troops to U.N. peacekeeping operations.
Just a week ago, in fact, the Security Council decided to reduce the U.N. mission in Rwanda from 2,550 to 270 peacekeepers and ordered them to concentrate only on negotiating a cease-fire between government troops and rebel forces.
But Boutros-Ghali, in a letter to the Security Council, said that “as many as 200,000 people may have died during the last three weeks” in massacres mostly “perpetrated by armed groups of civilians taking advantage of the complete breakdown of law and order in Kigali and many other parts of Rwanda.” He said “it has become clear that the horrors for which they are responsible can be ended only if law and order is restored.”
To do so, he acknowledged, “would require a commitment of human and material resources on a scale which member states have so far proved reluctant to contemplate.”
“But I am convinced,” he went on, “that the scale of human suffering in Rwanda and its implications for the stability of neighboring countries leave the Security Council with no alternative but to examine this possibility.”
He did not detail what size force he had in mind. The peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Macedonia now has an authorized strength of more than 40,000 troops, the largest in U.N. history.
Just hours before Boutros-Ghali sent his letter to the Security Council, U.N. officials estimated that 250,000 people had fled from Rwanda into Tanzania in the last 24 hours--the biggest, fastest exodus that refugee officials said they had seen. Lines at the border stretched for miles. “It’s a massive crossing, and it’s continuing,” U.N. worker Maureen Connolly told the Associated Press after flying over the border. “Thousands and thousands of people.”
And while members of the Hutu tribe have been slaughtering Tutsi in Rwanda, the Tutsi in neighboring Burundi have been threatening and killing Hutus in revenge.
The Tutsi-dominated Burundian army trucked hundreds of men, women and children out of the Hutu quarter of the capital of Bujumbura on Friday and unloaded them at a soccer stadium, promising them protection.
The Hutus, waving white flags, had surrendered to the soldiers after a night of heavy shelling by the army. The troops said their targets were armed Hutu militias in the Hutu quarter.
Terrifying chaos erupted in Rwanda three weeks ago after the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, both Hutus, died in a mysterious plane crash in the capital of Kigali.
This set off the Hutu-dominated Rwandan army and Hutu toughs in a furious frenzy of vengeance against Tutsi. A rebel army, the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Liberation Front, then fought its way to the capital, Kigali.
In his letter to the Security Council, Boutros-Ghali reported that Kigali is now divided between the government and rebel forces, with frequent exchanges of artillery and mortar fire.
The two U.N. leaders on the scene--Brig. Gen. Romeo A. Dallaire of Canada, the military commander, and Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh of Cameroon, the secretary general’s special representative--had failed to make headway in negotiating a cease-fire.
Further, Boutros-Ghali said, U.N. officials were reporting continued massacres “on a large scale in the countryside” and “strong evidence of preparations for further massacres of civilians in the city” of Kigali.
Within the city, he said, “there are several large concentrations of civilians who fear for their lives but enjoy little effective protection.” He said that the 270 U.N. troops “would be unable to save them if a new wave of massacres were to start.”
A U.N. refugee agency reported that it has enough food, medicine and other supplies along the Tanzanian border for 50,000 people. It planned an emergency airlift and overland convoy to send in more help. Private aid organizations were already distributing what was on hand.
Frenzied Tutsi-Hutu bloodletting has erupted often in the last 35 years of independence. The causes are deep and complex. For centuries, the Tutsi, no more than 15% of the population in both Rwanda and Burundi, ruled these societies as lords who dominated the lowly Hutu peasant masses.
During the German and Belgian colonial periods, the Tutsi strengthened their hold, for they were the favored and therefore better educated tribe. Shortly before independence, the Hutus overthrew the Tutsi king in Rwanda. But this did not happen in Burundi.
For most of its independence, Rwanda has been run by a majority Hutu government ever fearful of the educated, lordly Tutsi, while Burundi has been run by a minority Tutsi government fearful of the Hutu masses. The tribal confusion has created volatile ethnic politics. A Hutu was elected president of Burundi last year, for example, but was then murdered by Tutsi troops in an abortive coup last September.