Ambassadors of the United States and 13 other countries meeting in Canada’s capital gave approval Friday to a multinational humanitarian mission to aid refugees in eastern Zaire.
“Now, the multinational force is formally constituted,” said Paul Heinbecker, a Canadian foreign affairs official who chaired a meeting of the ambassadors.
In all, about 20 countries--including the United States, Britain, France, South Africa, Spain, Senegal and Japan--are expected to provide support to the force, Canadian officials said.
Although the size, composition, timing and duties of the multinational force remain undecided, the agreement marked the nations’ official commitments to the Canadian-backed mission.
The force, to be based in Entebbe, Uganda, under the leadership of Canadian Lt. Gen. Maurice Baril, will carry out reconnaissance missions to determine where the refugees are and how best to get food to them.
Rwanda has repeatedly questioned the need for such a force, saying the number of needy refugees in eastern Zaire has been vastly overstated.
The United States has expressed reservations about airdropping relief supplies to refugees who have not yet made it to the border. It fears that the airdrops would not reach malnourished refugees but would be taken instead by Hutu militants. It was not immediately clear Friday if U.S. officials had changed their position.
Approval for the scaled-down mission comes nearly three weeks after Prime Minister Jean Chretien began talks with other world leaders to help an estimated 1 million Rwandan refugees in Zaire. Since then, about 600,000 refugees have returned to Rwanda. But at least 100,000 are still in Zaire, Heinbecker said.
He said dropping food from the air--which has been criticized as unworkable by some aid experts--is not the best option but may be the only way to distribute supplies.