A U.N. panel investigating the 1994 genocide in Rwanda reported today that the incompetence of the United Nations, coupled with the political paralysis of the United States and other major powers, led to the failure to stop the murder of as many as 800,000 Rwandans.

The panel also said that a series of apologies over the past year by world leaders, including President Clinton and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, were inadequate.

"The United Nations failed the people of Rwanda during the genocide in 1994," the panel concluded. "It is a failure for which the United Nations as an organization, but also its member states, should have apologized more clearly, more frankly, and much earlier."

The 57-page report, based on U.N. documents and interviews with more than 100 officials, is highly critical of Annan, who was head of the United Nations's peacekeeping department in 1994, and of his principal deputy, Iqbal Riza of Pakistan. But it also blames members of the Security Council, including the United States, for failing to provide the world body with the political support and material means to prevent the genocide.

As Rwanda headed into the final months of a U.N.-brokered power-sharing agreement between the country's Hutu-led government and Tutsi-dominated rebels, Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana's airplane was shot down on April 6, 1994. Hutu hard-liners quickly unleashed a campaign to wipe out moderate Hutu political leaders and the Tutsi population.

According to the U.N. report, Annan and Riza ignored a U.N. commander in Africa, Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire of Canada, who had repeatedly warned that mass murder was being planned. Dallaire sought authorization from U.N. headquarters to use force to disarm the plotters. But Annan and Riza informed the commander that he had neither the mandate nor the means to use force.

As armed groups moved against ethnic Tutsi civilians, the report says, U.N. peacekeepers were either unwilling or unable to defend the Rwandans or, in some instances, themselves. Ten Belgian peacekeepers were killed.

While the report cites some examples of heroism among the U.N. peacekeepers, it says Bangladeshi troops abandoned the Rwandan civilians who sought refuge in a soccer stadium, while Belgian forces left other refugees unprotected at a technical school, in defiance of instructions from U.N. commanders.

"When the [U.N. peacekeeping] contingent at [the school] left, there could not have been any doubts as to the risk of massacre which awaited the civilians," the report says. "The manner in which the troops left, including attempts to pretend to the refugees that they were not in fact leaving, was disgraceful."

Little if any of this account is new, but the United Nations had not acknowledged its failure before. In a letter attached to the report, Annan says he was deprived of the means to stop the slaughter. "There was a United Nations force in the country at the time, but it was neither mandated nor equipped for the kind of forceful action which would have been needed to prevent or halt the genocide," he says. "On behalf of the United Nations, I acknowledge this failure and express my deep remorse."

The report comes just a few weeks after the United Nations published a similarly self-critical account of its failure to prevent the killing of thousands of Muslims in the Bosnian village of Srebrenica, often called the worst act of violence in Europe since World War II.

Like the previous report, the account of U.N. inaction in Rwanda challenges the morality of remaining neutral in the face of aggression. "The United Nations had an obligation to act which transcended traditional principles of peacekeeping. In effect, there can be no neutrality in the face of genocide, no impartiality in the face of a campaign to exterminate part of the population," it says.

The report's chief author, former Swedish prime minister Ingvar Carlsson, said today that Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who played a key role in the Rwanda situation in her former post as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, declined to be interviewed. But Carlsson said other U.S. officials provided investigators with information on the U.S. role and point of view.

Richard C. Holbrooke, the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, praised Annan for his courage and candor in commissioning the two reports, which he said are intended to help U.N. officials and policymakers avoid such failures in the future.