US begins airlift of food and resources to crowded camps in eastern Zaire
AS a massive United States airlift of food, medicine, and equipment gets under way to aid the 1 million suffering Rwandan refugees in Goma, Zaire, senior United Nations and private-relief officials say the key now is to try to persuade the healthy refugees to return home.
The most important thing is to create a ``psychological climate'' of safety in Rwanda so people will return, says Peter Hansen, UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.
Mr. Hansen, who arrived here Saturday night, is leading a top-level UN team to Goma and to Kigali, Rwanda's capital, this week. Finding ways to encourage refugees to go home ``is what this mission is about,'' he says.
With borders between Zaire and Rwanda reopened yesterday, a growing number of refugees began heading home.
Luring refugees back will require a nonpartisan radio station, probably run by the UN, to counter reports by a clandestine radio -
apparently run by the ousted Hutu government inside Rwanda - that are perpetuating ethnic fears. The new radio station is needed to assure people of their safety in returning, Hansen and other relief officials say. Also needed is distribution of much greater quantities of relief food inside Rwanda and the presence of more UN troops and aid-agency personnel, UN and other relief officials say.
None of this is happening - yet. But Hansen says talks are under way with the British government to furnish a radio station. He blamed the international community with being ``pathetically slow in putting [UN] troops together'' to augment the force of some 2,500 now in Rwanda. The UN estimates the first major increases in troops may not come until late August.
The US commitment
President Clinton authorized $100 million for the US airlift on Friday. ``We've been working since May [supplying relief to Rwandan refugees and the displaced], and I have done all I knew to do,'' he said.