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 dicembre 2019 


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The dilemmas of African conflict cannot be avoided by identifying one side as victims and the other as aggressors. The return of some 600,000 Hutu refugees to Rwanda in November gave the international community good reason to shelve an ill-thought out plan for military intervention in eastern Zaire. It suited many governments, especially the US administration, to accept the official Rwandan claim that the only Hutus remaining on Zairean soil were a hard core militiamen and soldiers loyal to the ousted regime - those who had carried out the 1994 genocide. In fact, hundreds of thousands of Rwandans had fled deeper into Zaire, along with 150,000 refugees from Burundi and at least 300,000 displaced Zaireans. Most have since been wandering in the forest, out of reach of any relief effort, and are now in a desperate condition. Ten days ago Ms Emma Bonino, the European Union's humanitarian affairs commissioner, found some of them in a makeshift camp near Kisangani. Horrified by what she saw, she returned to Brussels fulminating against those, including the US government, that were attempting to play down the crisis. Some relief agencies have gone further, accusing the US of a deliberate cover-up. Mr Nicholas Stockton, emergencies director of Oxfam UK & Ireland, says that on November 20 he was shown US aerial photographs which "confirmed, in considerable detail, the existence of 500,000 people distributed in three major and numerous minor agglomerations". Yet three days later the US military claimed they had located only one significant cluster of people which could be identified as former members of the Rwandan armed forces and militias. While Ms Bonino was in Zaire, Mr Stockton was telling a conference in Oxford that "as many as 400,000 refugees and unknown numbers of Zairean displaced persons have, in effect, been airbrushed from history". He blamed not only the US government but also "journalists and other seasoned observers" who had failed to expose the cover-up. At one level, the agencies are simply hitting back at the media which "debunked their apocalyptic warnings", as Mr Stockton puts it, after refugees whom they had depicted as being at death's door poured back into Rwanda in November in robust health. But in calling for an armed rescue mission the agencies found themselves alongside some strange allies: not only the French government and media but also President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, who hoped such an intervention would help him regain control of his country. The Hutu militia leaders also hoped it would reverse the blitzkrieg of Zairean rebels and Rwandan troops driving them away from the frontier. Opposing intervention was virtually the whole establishment of the English-speaking world from traditional right-wing non-interventionists, through many of the most respected Africa specialists among diplomats and journalists, to human rights workers who are normally critical of western policies. Why? The UK and US governments, along with most anglophone commentators on African affairs tend, with some good reasons, to approve of the present governments in Rwanda and Uganda. President Yoweri Museveni, by far the most enlightened and effective ruler of Uganda since independence, has begun to pull his country round after the disastrous Amin-Obote era. And the Rwandan Patriotic Front - which succeeded in ousting a regime responsible for genocide - did face a real threat of revenge from the militia which remained in control of the refugee camps. Similarly, it is hard not to sympathise with Mr Laurent Kabila, the Zairean rebel leader, in his campaign to overthrow the corrupt and despotic Mobutu regime. Yet in some francophone media, notably Le Monde, the leading French newspaper, these sympathies are transmogrified into a sinister Anglo-Saxon conspiracy.Indeed, Le Mond├Ęs correspondents seem still to regard Africa as a battleground between francophone and anglophone civilisations. Frustrated by the EU's failure to unite behind Ms Bonino's call for action, they accuse northern Europe of having a soft spot for "the authoritarian but effective regimes in power in Rwanda and Uganda", and of going along with an American plot to "export instability" into both Sudan and Zaire - states they believe the US now wants to see broken up. Relief workers should be worried when they find themselves echoing this kind of conspiracy theory and beating the drum for western military intervention in a complex and fastmoving African conflict. Most are aware that feeding refugees is seldom a neutral act. It may discourage them from going home when they could safely do so; it may destabilise the local economy; it may (as it did with the Rwandan Hutu militias and the Cambodian Khmer Rouge) help the authors of atrocities to re-form their troops for a new assault. But to draw attention to such dilemmas is not to solve them, and sympathy from some governments or parties does not entitle one to ignore evidence that their policies are causing largescale suffering. Agencies which have as their raison d'├¬tre the relief of suffering cannot, or anyway should not, consider leaving children to starve or force refugees home against their will as acceptable policy options. Mr Stockton has a point: if it is wrong to treat all sides in a conflict as equally guilty, it is no less wrong to regard everyone on one side as victims and everyone on the other as aggressors or mass-murderers. When hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are driven into the forest at gunpoint and left to starve, such justice is rough indeed.

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