Brussels, 24 May 2007 (FH) - General Joseph Charlier, Head of the Belgian Defense Staff in1994, disputed before the Crown Court in the Bernard Ntuyahaga trial that the withdrawal from Rwanda of the UNAMIR Belgian soldiers was a "rout".
The assassination of ten peacekeepers, on 7 April 1994, had caused the withdrawal by Belgium of its UNAMIR (the United Nations) quota, recognized to be the most operational. The ex-Major of the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) Bernard Ntuyahaga is accused of having taken part in these killings.
"The decision of the withdrawal was not expressed in front of me by Leo Delcroix [Minister of Defense] until the 12th, and we left only the 19th", he answered to a lawyer reminding him that some of the soldiers that had testified had had the impression that the withdrawal was decided as of 9 April.
According to him, on 8 April, the Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene simply explained to the UN that "the soldiers would only be left if they are giving the means to defend themselves". The United Nations did not modify the UNAMIR mandate, Belgium then decided to withdraw its troops.
"We yielded a large quantity of weapons and equipment to the Force, and General Dallaire said that he was satisfied with this manner of departure. It was not a rout, but an ordered departure ", he estimated.
At the time of operation "Silver Back", intended to repatriate the Belgian nationals due to safety concerns, the planes transported, in his opinion, "elements to reinforce the battalion and white paint [color of UN forces]: at that time, the intention was indeed to remain ".
According to the General, the departure of the Belgian soldiers "did not allow for the genocide to happen, as it has been said", because it "had been taking place for twelve days before we left". He denied the capacities of UNAMIR to intervene to prevent it: "From the moment when there was a resumption of the hostilities, it was illusory to want to fight. In the countryside newspaper of KIBAT, it was written: any movement outside is impossible without fighting. The mandate allowed only for legitimate self-defense and a peacekeeping force does not have the means to fight in the event of a war ".
He explained that he had asked Colonels Marchal, Leroy and Dewez, in charge of the UNAMIR Belgian troops, "to place the safety of [their] men before the achievement of the mission", as well as giving "instructions of withdrawal in the event of the peace process [launched by the Agreements of Arusha of 1993] failing".
In spite of the reception as of 7 April of Rwandan refugees fleeing the massacres in the UNAMIR bases, General Charlier also confirmed that it had never been foreseen to repatriate these refugees at the time of the operations of withdrawal. The support of national military forces in the UNAMIR was also not considered. "Neither means, nor mandate. Moreover, the French left at the approach of the FPR troops of Kigali, and the Americans warned us that they would not step foot in Rwanda"
© Hirondelle News Agency