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Rwanda Threatens Darfur Pullout if U.N. Removes General

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By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 24, 2008

UNITED NATIONS, July 23 -- Rwanda has warned that it will withdraw its 3,000 peacekeepers from a U.N.-backed mission in the Darfur region of Sudan if the United Nations refuses to retain an alleged Rwandan war criminal as its second-highest-ranking commander there, according to U.S. and U.N. officials.

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The United Nations has sought to persuade the Rwandan government to replace Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Karake Karenzi, the deputy force commander of a joint African Union and U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur. A Spanish judge indicted Karenzi and 39 other Rwandan officers in February for alleged war crimes in Rwanda in the mid-1990s.

The Rwandan government rejected the U.N. request, saying that the allegations are groundless and that Karenzi has performed with distinction in Darfur. Rwanda's U.N. envoy, Joseph Nsengimana, sent an unsigned memo to the international body Monday threatening to pull the Rwandan peacekeepers out of Darfur if it proceeded with plans to push Karenzi out, according to a senior U.N. official.

The United States has sided with the Rwandan government, citing concerns that a Rwandan pullout would cripple the already hobbled peacekeeping mission.

The Bush administration maintains that the peacekeepers provide the best hope of protecting Darfur's civilians from a government-backed counterinsurgency that has led to the deaths of more than 300,000 civilians and driven nearly 3 million more from their homes.

But the decision places the administration in the position of backing an alleged war criminal as the second-in-command of a mission that is trying to halt mass murder. And it comes as the administration and the United Nations are supporting international efforts to hold former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir accountable for genocide and crimes against humanity.

"It is dismaying if some governments still believe that they can pick and choose alleged perpetrators of war crimes on the basis of political expediency," said Steve Crawshaw , a U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch.

On Saturday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice instructed Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inform U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that "the U.S. government urges the renewal of Karenzi's contract without discrimination," according to an American official.

Khalilzad's spokesman, Richard Grenell, declined to say whether the ambassador carried out that order. "I won't elaborate on specific U.S. instructions," Grenell said, adding: "This decision is up to the secretary general. Our concern is for the effective deployment of UNAMID and the full execution of its mandate to protect the people of Darfur."

Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his foreign minister, Rosemary Museminali, threatened a pullout during a July 15 meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer at an African Union summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, if Karenzi's contract wasn't renewed, according to a U.S. official.

Four days earlier, Kagame's U.N. envoy issued a similar warning to Edmond Mulet, the U.N. assistant secretary general for peacekeeping. The envoy told Mulet that genocide revisionists, the Spanish magistrate and human rights groups were conspiring to undermine Rwanda's military leadership, according to a U.N. official.

Senior U.S. officials in Washington and New York differ over the wisdom of pressing the U.N. leadership to renew Karenzi's contract. Last month, Frazer personally appealed to Ban to keep Karenzi, arguing that the United Nations couldn't afford to alienate the Rwandans when they are needed in Darfur. But Khalilzad subsequently told Ban in a private meeting that the U.S. position was not monolithic and that the administration would support any decision Ban made, U.S. and U.N. officials said.


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