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U.S. weighs its options in Zairian crisis


What form should aid take?

November 8, 1996
Web posted at: 8:45 p.m. EST (0145 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Top U.S. officials met Friday at the White House to consider a raft of plans to help resolve the humanitarian crisis in eastern Zaire.

On the table are several options, ranging from organizing a peacekeeping force to delivering relief supplies. Military sources told CNN the United States also is considering another type of mission: an evacuation of U.S. citizens.

For now, however, Pentagon officials say their planning represents a prudent move by U.S. commanders. "They're doing that kind of thing that would enable the policy-makers to see what the options might be," said Pentagon spokesman Capt. Michael Doubleday.


Sources say the most likely U.S. action will be an airlift of about 150 Americans out of Zaire, similar to April's evacuation of Americans from Liberia.

However, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns stood by earlier statements that the United States also may send logistical support to central Africa. He said government officials are studying several proposals. Burns stressed that no decisions have been made.


About 1 million refugees displaced by the fighting in Zaire are without food, water or medicine. The civil war between Zairian troops and Tutsi rebels has ground food distribution to a halt. Air workers have fled from many areas.

Burns said the United States wants to help alleviate the crisis, but needs details on different options. Sources say there are no active plans for U.S. peacekeepers.

"I don't think that's a case at this point for a military involvement by the U.S. I think that what is needed is first of all to feed some very hungry people and, secondly, to make sure that the food gets to them," former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger said.

Somalia experience remembered

Sadako Ogata, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, agreed. She said after her commission finished its "stopgap measure" to bring relief into the war-torn areas, forces would be needed to push through a permanent cease-fire and "open up corridors for safe return" of refugees.


Although the United States is distressed over the human suffering, the brutal deaths of U.S. servicemen in a previous U.N. mission in Africa has tempered its actions. Eighteen Americans died in a firefight in Somalia in 1993 after the U.S. military intervened in an attempt to reduce chaos and enable worldwide relief efforts to proceed safely.

France is pushing Washington to join it in offering troops for a U.N. mission, but Washington is balking -- and not just because of Somalia. In an era of budget cuts, the United States has few diplomatic, economic or strategic incentives in central Africa that would compel it to act.

The United States continues to urge the Hutu refugees from Rwanda, believed to number more than 1 million in Zaire, to return to their country. Many of the refugees, who were in camps around Goma and Bukavu, have fled further into Zaire to escape the fighting.

The Hutu refugees fled to eastern Zaire in 1994, fearing retaliation at the hands of the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan army seeking revenge for the genocide of up to 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus by the former Hutu regime.

Correspondents Jamie McIntyre and Steve Hurst contributed to this report.  

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