Perry: US Could Parachute Food into Zaire

from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 27 Nov 1996
NAPLES, Italy (Reuter) - U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, responding to pressure from Canada, said Wednesday the United States was prepared to take part in a proposed military parachute drop of food to thousands of Rwandan refugees in Zaire.
"If they move forward with the air drop operation, we would certainly be in there as a full participant in it. And we are positioned to do that right now," Perry told reporters travelling with him to Italy on the first leg of a globe- circling trip.

Canada, impatient with international indecision on the eastern Zaire refugee crisis, Tuesday proposed that a military headquarters for relief operations be set up in neighboring Uganda.

Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, announcing the proposal in Ottawa, also said Canada was pushing for air drops in Zaire to help those most affected.

While more than half a million Rwandan refugees have eased the crisis by recently returning to their country from camps in neighboring Zaire, relief experts estimate that several hundred thousand Rwandans remain displaced in Zaire and could face hunger and disease if they are not helped.

Perry cautioned Wednesday that any multi-national military effort led by Canada would have to get permission from Zaire, Uganda and Rwanda in order to send cargo planes in at low altitude to drop supplies in Zaire.

The United Nations has authorised a Canadian-led multi- national military relief effort, but so far there has been no agreement among several dozen nations who have tentatively offered to take part in that effort on how it might be done.

The U.S. military, which currently has some 50 military cargo planes standing by in Europe to join in any humanitarian relief effort in central Africa, has in recent years parachuted food supplies to Muslims in Bosnia and to Kurds in northern Iraq.

The United States has in the past week sent Air Force teams to airports in Entebbe, Uganda, Mombasa, Kenya and Kigali, Rwanda, in anticipation of some type of military relief operation.

"The advance deployment that we have made is in anticipation of some sort of relief delivery operation and it could include an air drop." Perry said, adding that Canadian Defense Minister Douglas Young pressed for air drops during a meeting with him in Washington Monday.

Although President Bill Clinton has tentatively approved participation in a military effort, the United States has so far been reluctant to finally commit security troops on the ground unless the refugee situation gets worse.

The U.S. Air Force last week briefly suspended reconnaissance flights of unarmed P-3 Orion patrol planes over Zaire from Entebbe after one came under anti-aircraft fire in Zaire. But the plane was not damaged and the flights resumed.

Perry will visit American troops in Bosnia Thursday, the U.S. Thanksgiving Holiday, and then go to Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Japan and California before returning to Washington on December 4.

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