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Pentagon Ready to Assist Burundi Peacekeepers - 2003-02-12

Bush administration officials are keeping a close eye on developments in Burundi and remain ready to assist African peacekeepers scheduled to deploy there to enforce a ceasefire.

A senior defense official says the United States is happy that the African Union and South Africa in particular have decided to contribute to a peacekeeping force for Burundi.

The official, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity, calls the assignment "a tough one" and says the Bush administration is standing by to offer support to the planned peace operation.

The official says that assistance could be in the form of chartered aircraft to move peacekeepers within Africa to Burundi.

The official also says if asked, the U.S. European Command, which deals with much of sub-Saharan Africa, might offer experts to assist in the planning of a complex multi-national operation.

The official stresses the United States has no ambitions to take a leading role in the peacekeeping effort in Burundi, merely a desire to be supportive.

But the official makes clear the Bush administration, sensitive to criticism of U-S inaction during the Rwanda genocide in 1994, is closely monitoring what the official terms "the ebb and flow" of events in Burundi.

The official says President Bush has "been pretty clear that he is not going to have a Rwanda happen during his time in office."

This month's African Union summit in Addis Ababa approved a plan to send a force of AU observers to Burundi to monitor a ceasefire in that country's long and bloody civil war.

The deployment of the observers would be followed by a peacekeeping force from Ethiopia, Mozambique and South Africa.

Burundi's civil war broke out 10 years ago after soldiers from the minority Tutsi dominated Army killed the country's first democratically elected President, an ethnic Hutu.

In recent remarks welcoming Burundi's new Ambassador to Washington, President Bush said Burundi was at a crossroads. Mr. Bush hailed agreement between the government and rebel forces on a ceasefire as a significant step on the road to a just and lasting peace. But he also noted one rebel group, the National Liberation Front, remains committed to armed conflict, threatening to derail the peace process.