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Source: The Washington Post, Editorial, Saturday, May 9, 1998

The Rwanda Cable

On Jan. 11, 1994, Gen. Romeo Dallaire, commander of U.N. forces in Rwanda, cabled headquarters that a key informer had told him a campaign was underway to register all Tutsi for purposes of their early killing. So testifying to Congress the other day, Alain Destexhe, the Belgian senator who initiated an exhaustive Belgian inquiry into the Rwanda genocide, asked, '"'How many times since 1945 has the U.N. received a fax from its force commander in a country warning of the likely possibility of an extermination?'"' Yet when Gen. Dallaire proposed an urgent arms-recovery operation, he was told the mission did not lie within his mandate. Instead he was instructed to ask the Belgian, French and American ambassadors simply to warn the Rwandan president allegedly planning a massacre. A million-victim genocide began on April 7, 1994. At once the United Nations withdrew almost all of its forces.

'"'It seems that the U.N. Security Council was not informed of the gravity of the situation by the U.N. secretary general [Boutros Boutros-Ghali],'"' Mr. Destexhe testified. '"'Why? And why did the secretariat of the U.N. not authorize Gen. Dallaire to go ahead with the mission of arms recovery he proposed to carry out?...Finally, even if some key member states of the U.N. were reluctant to act, was it not the secretary general's role to warn the Security Council or even to go public and to speak about the genocide about to be committed in Rwanda? I strongly believe that if Gen. Dallaire's cable had been published on the front page of the New York Times or The Washington Post, the genocide could have been prevented.'"'

Belgium, Sen. Destexhe reported, has investigated the general failure to act on information suggesting, if not the preparation of genocide, at least the existence of the preparation of large-scale massacres...'"' France is currently investigating. The United States and the United Nations, Sen. Destexhe rightly believes, should follow suit.

Then director of U.N. peacekeeping forces, now secretary general, Kofi Annan, who believes '"'the world failed Rwanda,'"' says the question is not who is to blame for Rwanda but how to prevent a repetition. The answer has to be to understand the frame of mind and the grip of procedure that let the Rwanda cable and other warnings of genocide be ignored.