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General warns of toll of inaction

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Dallaire (The Spokesman-Review)

MOSCOW, Idaho – Eleven years ago, nearly 1 million Rwandans died in a genocide, and the man who led the United Nations force there says the world is standing by and allowing a replay in the Sudan.

“The term ‘Genocide’ has lost its ability to generate action,” retired Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire of Canada told a crowd at the annual Borah Symposium here Monday night. “We could go in (to Sudan) right now.”

Instead, Dallaire told a packed ballroom at the Student Union Building, the United States and the international community is failing to put human life ahead of self-interest, just as it did in 1994 in Rwanda. World observers say about 180,000 people – some estimates are nearly twice that – have died in the Darfur region of the Sudan since October 2003, with about 2 million people displaced. The United Nations has said it will run out of food for those displaced Sudanese “in a matter of weeks.”

“Darfur certainly doesn’t give us, necessarily, the response we were looking for since Rwanda,” Dallaire said.

Dallaire was one of several speakers participating in this year’s four-day symposium, titled “Voices of Peace.” He led the U.N. peacekeeping mission to Rwanda before a fragile peace accord in that country fell apart, and Rwanda collapsed into civil war and then into genocide. As members of the Tutsi tribe were slaughtered and forced from their homes, Dallaire appealed for help from the United Nations and member countries, and was rebuffed, according to several accounts of the genocide.

He marshaled what forces he had and tried to create safe areas and tried to protect some Tutsis from the Hutu extremists conducting the genocide, and he is credited with saving about 20,000 Tutsis. But, he said Monday night, faster action from world powers could have saved many more.

He said he asked for more troops in Rwanda in May 1994, as he realized the scope of what was happening.

“Two months later, in July, the first reinforcements arrived,” he said. “They were Ethiopians. They had just finished fighting their own civil war.”

During the delay, he said, between 450,000 and 500,000 Rwandans died.

U.S. support in particular wasn’t forthcoming, he said, because the country had been stunned by the deaths of American soldiers in Somalia, and had become reluctant to get involved in other countries’ civil wars – at least those in Africa.

Dallaire said that while the major countries were failing to send troops to help in Rwanda, they were committing resources to the civil wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia.

“During the ‘90s, we actually started prioritizing human beings,” he said. “We actually said some are more human than others.”

Since the end of the Cold War, the world’s major countries have been faced with a changing, complex landscape that includes power struggles, genocide and terrorism, he said.

No longer do two superpowers essentially simplify the world and create traditional allegiances. The East and West suddenly had no strategic interest in impoverished Third World countries.

“The only things there are human beings,” he said. “So it’s not in our interest.”

As a result, the post-Cold War years have been marked with suffering and bloodshed in many less-developed countries, and the impact has been particularly hard on children, he said.

In Rwanda, for example, more than 300,000 of the dead were age 14 or younger, he said. Many of those who did the killing were youths, as well.

The only way to make a long-term difference is to help impoverished countries develop – to “resolve the problem at the source,” he said.

By helping those countries, American and other powers can also protect themselves, he said. “Terrorism is the expression of rage by the undeveloped world.”

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