Recent events in Burma and Sudan have conspired to remind me about the need to have regional responses to these regional crises. Regional, because Myanmar is a member of ASEAN, and Sudan, a member of not just IGAD, but the more formidable African Union.
When I heard the news of the 10 AU peacekeepers having been killed over the weekend, I found myself almost on the verge of tears.
What happened to "never again" in Rwanda? More importantly, I couldn't help but remember, in uncanny parallels, how 10 Belgian peacekeepers were killed in Rwanda, prompting a hasty retreat. Whether Belgium was justified or not in the withdrawal, let's just say that in 1994, at the height of the genocide, no-one could have blamed them.
In my view, a quick reminder of the quasi-parallels are worth reminding ourselves about:
In January 1994, three months before the killings, Major General Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian commander of the U.N. peacekeepers in Rwanda, informed the Belgian government that the Hutus were preparing for a large-scale slaughter of Tutsis. Despite repeated warnings, the Belgians refused to provide or request further assistance.
In February, Belgian Foreign Minister Claes sent the Belgian Senate a telex that reported the possibility of genocide. No additional precautions were authorized.
The massacres ultimately were provoked April 6, 1994, by the death of Rwandan President Habyarimana, a Hutu, blown up in his jet as it approached Kigali airport on his way back from Arusha, Tanzania. Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, also a Hutu, was killed on the same plane. The two presidents had just agreed to let Tutsi refugees in Burundi return to Rwanda.
Reacting to Habyarimana’s death, Hutu leaders proceeded with their plan to exterminate Rwanda’s Tutsi minority.
General Dallaire, the UNAMIR commander, saw the developing danger. He asked Uwilingiyimana, Rwanda’s Hutu prime minister, to speak on Rwandan radio to help calm the nation. He sent 10 Belgian soldiers in U.N. blue berets to pick up Uwilingiyimana at her house.
The Belgians took gunfire at the house, and when Uwilingiyimana tried to slip out the back, the militant Hutus caught her and killed her on the spot.
Then the 10 Belgians, with U.N. advice, agreed to disarm, and the Hutus took them in trucks to Camp Kigali, a military compound. Here, a mob of Hutu soldiers attacked the Belgians.
The Hutus beat several of the Belgians to death with iron bars. A few peacekeepers ran to a cinder block hut and tried to fight off the attackers. Hours later, the last of the 10 was killed with a grenade.
Shocked by the death of the 10 Belgians, Foreign Minister Claes asked U.N. secretary-general Boutros-Ghali for permission to withdraw all Belgian troops from the peacekeeping force. Claes also told Boutros-Ghali that the U.N. should suspend its entire operation in Rwanda.
In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Boutros-Ghali said a Belgian withdrawal would cripple the UNAMIR mission
In the same vein, a Nigerian withdrawal would cripple the AMIS (African Union Mission in Sudan) that is about to become part of a UN-AU hybrid 26 000-strong force. This, despite the fact that Nigerian AU peacekeepers were also killed--and Nigeria has been emphatic about this, too:
"The Federal government of Nigeria condemns this attack and is concerned that this incident may undermine the credibility of the international mission," presidential spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi said in a statement.
But he ruled out any withdrawal from the peacekeeping mission.
"Nigeria will still continue to participate because we are committed to our commitment in Darfur under the UN/AU hybrid force," Adeniyi added.
Meanwhile, it was interesting that in all the responses of conflict management offered by listeners to BBC World Service news last Friday in News Hour, it had to take Mark Malloch-Brown, former UN Deputy Secretary-general now-turned junior foreign minister in the Gordon Brown administration in the UK, to talk about an ASEAN response to the crisis in Myanmar/Burma.
In a manner which I personally felt was slightly self-serving on Australia's part, it was interesting to read that Australia did not wholly condem an ASEAN response; in fact, it praised ASEAN:
perhaps most significantly, the ASEAN leaders meeting in New York last week released an uncharacteristically strong statement condemning the violence, calling for the release of all political detainees, including Suu Kyi, and imploring all parties to find a political solution.
Perhaps I spoke too soon?:
It is ASEAN's new robust position that offers an opportunity for Australia.
Having successfully assumed a leadership role at APEC and enjoying strong relationships with a number of ASEAN countries — including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and ASEAN's chair, Singapore — Australia is well positioned to work with them in co-ordinating a regional response, including multiparty talks.
However it turns out in Burma, what with China, Japan and India playing key roles in the resolution of the crisis, what is crystal-clear to me is that the world ought to be moving slowly and surely towards a time when crises -- as exemplified by that of the ambush of the AU peacekeepers (ending in a meeting of the AU's Peace and Security Council), and that of Burma -- prompt a visceral direction towards a regional response.
About this, there must be no question.