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US Backs Rwanda in Dispute Over Darfur Commander

The United States Thursday sided with Rwanda in an international controversy over the status of a Rwandan commander in the U.N.-backed force in Darfur, UNAMID. The commander is accused of 1990s war crimes. The State Department says it reviewed the Rwandan general's case and found no grounds to exclude him from the peacekeeping operation. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department says a Rwandan pullout from Darfur would "devastate" the peacekeeping operation, and it is urging the retention of Rwandan Major General Emmanuel Karake Karenzi as deputy commander of the hybrid U.N. and African Union force.

A controversy over the status of Karenzi took a new turn this week when Rwanda warned the United Nations that it would leave the peacekeeping force if the Rwandan general had to step down in the face of war crimes allegations.

A Spanish judge in February indicted Karenzi and 39 other Rwandan officers and officials for allegedly engaging in reprisal killings after the country's 1994 genocide.

Karenzi's contract as the number-two U.N. commander in Darfur is up for renewal, and the United Nations has reportedly tried to persuade Rwanda to replace him, after calls for his ouster by Rwandan opposition factions and some human rights groups.

Rwanda has rejected the calls - saying charges against Karenzi are groundless and that he has served with distinction in Darfur.

At a news briefing Thursday, Acting State Department Spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos strongly endorsed a continued role in Darfur for Rwandan peacekeepers including Karenzi.

"Rwandan peacekeepers in Darfur are noted for their professionalism and courage. Five of them were recently killed in the line of duty. Losing four Rwandan battalions would devastate the operation. It's in the interest of a strong UNAMID that this general continue as deputy force commander, given his strong record of performance over the last year," he said.

Asked if the U.S stance meant indifference about the charges against Karenzi from the 1990s, Gallegos said that before his U.N. appointment the United States examined allegations against him and found no grounds to object to his candidacy.

In 1994, Rwandan Hutu extremists linked to the government killed an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and Hutu moderates in a 100-day outbreak of genocidal violence.

The Spanish charges against Karenzi and others stem from subsequent revenge killings of Hutus in Rwanda and camps in neighboring Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A senior diplomat who spoke to reporters here said the decision to support Rwanda, after the U.S. had put out mixed signals on the issue, was made by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice following a review of the case.

He said the United States is urging Rwanda to engage with the Spanish government on the matter, and is doing what it can diplomatically to keep the Darfur force together and in place.

Spokesman Gallegos expressed deep concern about what he termed the deteriorating situation in Darfur, and said the United States supports the rapid strengthening of UNAMID through the provision of experienced commanders and additional troops.

Fewer that 10,000 troops of UNAMID's authorized strength of 26,000 soldiers have been deployed to date. Seven peacekeepers including the five Rwandans were killed in a convoy ambush in Darfur July 8, the most serious single attack on the force thus far.