Wednesday, March 31, 2004

PARIS - Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian general who grieves for the hundreds of thousands of Rwandans his token U.N. force could not save 10 years ago, fears “self-interested racism” among the big powers could lead to genocide again.

“Not all humans are human in the international context,” Lt. Gen. Dallaire told the Associated Press in an interview. “Some countries are seen as important, but we have coldly created a tier of orphan nations.”

Ten years ago, Bosnians counted much more because they were Europeans, and the Balkans represented a strategic interest worthy of international military intervention, Gen. Dallaire said. He described this as “self-interested racism.”

“I’m sure there would have been more reaction if someone had tried to exterminate Rwanda’s 300 mountain gorillas,” he said.

In 1998, President Clinton stopped in Rwanda to apologize for the world’s failure to prevent the 90-day slaughter, saying: “Never again.”

Between April and June 1994, a government of extremists from Rwanda’s Hutu majority orchestrated the slaughter of Tutsis as well as many moderate Hutus. Most were killed with machetes.

History is not clear on how many people were hacked to death, burned or shot in the three months. Most estimates say more than 500,000. Gen. Dallaire, who watched the massacre from start to finish, says 800,000.

The blood bath ended when the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi-led rebel group, toppled the Hutu extremists.

Gen. Dallaire’s book, “Shake Hands With the Devil,” dispassionately relates how U.N. headquarters — on orders from Washington and European capitals — left his 2,000-member peacekeeping force powerless.

In conversation, he drew lessons for the present. He condemned U.S. strategists who he says pay little heed to the political and human consequences of overturning a society.

“You don’t gain anything by just going in and blowing them away, as we see now in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said. However Washington explains it, “most of the world — and the victims — see imperial motives and economic interests.”

A main-force invasion may be essential, Gen. Dallaire said, but afterward “soft skills” must be left to the armies of small nations, with no vested interests, operating under a U.N. flag.

Gen. Dallaire, a 57-year-old Quebecois, has a bristling gray mustache and penetrating eyes that suggest a fierce mien, but his voice is soft.

He still takes antidepressants to get through the day, but three years with his manuscript have taken him far beyond the suicidal low point when he was found drunk under a park bench.

Now retired as a three-star general, he pulls no punches about Rwanda.

In January, he flew to Tanzania to testify at a U.N. tribunal.

His book, just released in France, is a best seller in Canada. But, he said with a touch of rue, no American publisher seems interested in ancient Rwandan history.

Gen. Dallaire reached Kigali months before a mysterious plane crash killed the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi on April 6, 1994, as well as many of their ministers. The massacres, clearly planned in advance, started before the wreckage stopped smoking.

In cable after cable and 40 telephone calls, Gen. Dallaire pleaded for more soldiers and a change in the orders that allowed widely dispersed troops to shoot only in self-defense. A committed force of 5,000 could have stopped the killing, he said.

“The world just did not want to hear about it,” he said. “Americans had suffered their humiliation in Somalia and had no more taste for casualties in Africa.”

France had its own strategic reasons to lean toward the Hutus, he added.

That April 21, the Security Council, which requires nine votes and no vetoes to take action, refused to help. Instead, Gen. Dallaire’s token force of 2,000 was reduced to just 270 peacekeepers.

He said his U.N. superiors told him the U.S. government insisted it had no business in Rwanda and would not help any other country that wanted to get involved.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali calls it “my worst failure at the United Nations.”

Speaking to AP in Paris, where he heads an organization of French-speaking nations, Mr. Boutros-Ghali said Washington paralyzed action by setting impossible conditions.

Reminded of Mr. Clinton’s “Never again” pledge, Mr. Boutros-Ghali said, “Why didn’t he say that four years earlier?”

He added: “We asked permission to send help without U.S. participation, but they said no because [the Americans] would have to pay 30 percent and were afraid of being called in if things went wrong.”

Mr. Boutros-Ghali also blamed France, Britain and Belgium.

He quoted an unidentified Belgian officer as saying, “Let the Bougnols kill each other.” Bougnol is a derogatory word for Africans.

James Rubin, who was a top adviser to Mr. Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine K. Albright, said Washington voted no because no one was ready to commit troops in any case.

“It was our fault, everybody’s fault,” he told AP by telephone from Washington. “There is no question we failed. But we opposed the resolution because it was a meaningless piece of paper.”

At the time, he said, “we had this ridiculous fear of supporting a resolution that wouldn’t get implemented.”

It is easy for Mr. Boutros-Ghali and others to criticize Mrs. Albright now, he said, but Washington believed that no country would send enough troops to head off the massacres.

Gen. Dallaire said he was told by U.N. officials in New York that “Rwanda was of no value in any way, shape or form.” Left on his own, he struggled with an impossible mission.

After he tried to persuade Rwandan Hutu leaders to stop the killing, his own flag-flying car was blocked and sprayed with gunfire. He and his aide barely escaped alive.

He had to stand back helpless as 10 Belgian paratroopers under his command were captured and fatally tortured at Rwandan army headquarters.

Even if he had defied orders, he said, his troops, mainly from Bangladesh, were so reluctant to fight that they sabotaged their armored cars by putting rags in the exhaust pipes.

Apart from the hundreds of thousands massacred, he said, 3 million Rwandans were left homeless, ravaged by an AIDS epidemic and fed by inept aid programs.

“I saw children die because all their mothers were given was whole corn with no water or wood for cooking,” he said. “Kernels swelled up when they ate them, and they suffered a slow, horrible death.”

Had big powers reacted, he concluded, “we would have saved millions from this calamity. But I’m afraid we haven’t learned, and the same thing could happen again. How do you live with that?”

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