September 25, 1997

UN thwarted action to avert Rwandan genocide

WASHINGTON (Reuter) - A Belgian commission has gathered strong evidence that U.N. peacekeepers could have prevented the 1994 genocide of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans but were thwarted by higher-ups at U.N. headquarters in New York, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

A key document in the investigation is an urgent fax sent by the the head of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Rwanda at the time, Canadian Maj. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the Post said.

It went to his chief in New York, Maj. Gen. Maurice Baril, also a Canadian, the Post said, quoting a Belgian senator on the legislation panel, the newspaper reported.

In the fax, dated Jan. 11, 1994, Dallaire reported that a highly placed Rwandan informant had given the U.N. force details of a plan by the Hutu extremist government to exterminate thousands of civilians, most of them members of the Tutsi tribal minority.

The informant also gave peacekeepers the locations of arms caches established to equip the government-backed Hutu militiamen who were to carry out the killing, the newspaper quoted the fax as saying.

[IOW - UN disarmed the established Huto government on behalf of the Tutsi rebel army ... JP]

Dallaire asked Baril for authorization to confiscate the arms caches within 36 hours and grant asylum to the informant and his family.

But unnamed officials at the U.N. peacekeeping directorate refused to authorize the operation, Belgian Sen. Alain Destexhe told the paper in an interview.

Less than three months after the fax, president Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi -- both Hutus -- were killed in an unexplained plane crash and militiamen began a bloody rampage, killing 20,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in just a few days.

As many as More than half a million Rwandans were killed in the ensuing 10 weeks.

The Belgian commission is investigating the killings because Belgium was once the colonial power there and because 10 Belgian peacekeeping troops were tortured and killed by Hutu militiamen.