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Perry Predicts Smaller U.S. Force for Rwanda

<i> from Reuters</i>

Defense Secretary William J. Perry said Monday on his return from Africa that he is more hopeful about an international effort to save millions of Rwandan refugees and that only 3,000 U.S. troops will be needed to support the humanitarian operation.

The troop estimate, given to reporters at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, was lower than the 4,000 Americans that he earlier predicted would be stationed near Rwanda by the end of this week.

“As we speak, we have 1,200 people involved in that operation,” Perry said. “The number is going to go beyond 1,200, and I think 3,000 is probably the maximum that it is likely to go to.”

Perry visited Rwanda, Zaire and Uganda in a weekend trip on orders from President Clinton to inspect a U.S. military-led international aid effort to save as many as 4 million Rwandan refugees from malnutrition, thirst and disease in the wake of a bloody civil war.

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He repeated his statement a day earlier in Goma, Zaire, that the effort to provide fresh water to refugees and end a cholera epidemic at Goma had “turned the corner” and begun to reduce cholera deaths, which reached as many as 3,000 a day last week.

“We will, as the leading power in the world, be asked in many instances to take the lead” in such humanitarian efforts, said Democratic Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), who traveled with Perry.

Perry visited the Rwandan capital, Kigali, where leaders of that country’s new government promised to allow refugees to return safely in the aftermath of the civil war that has claimed up to half a million lives.

There are currently about 200 U.S. troops in Kigali setting up a 24-hour operation to receive aid shipments by military cargo plane.

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The United Nations is setting up an international peacekeeping force of nearly 5,000 troops in Rwanda, but Clinton and Perry have stressed that U.S. troops will not join in those operations.

In Goma, Perry said the international effort to provide fresh water and food for refugees, including up to 1.2 million Rwandans in Goma alone, had made major progress.

“I believe we have truly turned the corner on this tragedy here and will be making significant improvements every day,” he said, referring to steadily improving ability to produce fresh water and Sunday’s opening of the airport in Kigali for round-the-clock aid operations.

Perry will report to Clinton on his trip and make recommendations on whether more U.S. troops should be sent to Kigali to further expand the airport operation there.

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