Cease-fire required before U.S. troops enter

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States wants warring factions in Zaire to promise a cease-fire before U.S. and allied troops agree to move in and assure the delivery of relief aid to a million refugees, the Pentagon said Thursday.
There was still fighting during the day within a few miles of where the multinational force plans to start.
“We aren’t anticipating a combat operation,” spokesman Kenneth Bacon said at the Pentagon. “What we would like is a pledge by the sides that there will be a cease-fire.”
The proposal to send 1,000 U.S. troops to secure the Goma airfield and use about 3,000 other Americans to open an “air bridge” of relief supplies was under discussion Thursday at the United Nations.
But the U.N. Security Council delayed a decision until Friday at the earliest on authorizing the international force. In addition to Canada and the United States, the force of 10,000 to 12,000 people is expected to include troops from France, Britain, Spain, South Africa and several other nations.
Among the differences to be resolved before U.N. authorization is the duration of the mission. Canada has recommended the force remain in Zaire for six months. The United States wants a four-month mandate.
Given reports of shelling and skirmishes near Goma, which the United States wants to secure as a base for humanitarian operations, Senate Republicans were quick to express concern about the dangers of the proposed mission. Zairean rebels control the Goma airport.
Rep. Ben Gilman, R-N.Y., chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said President Clinton must “provide assurances to the Congress and the American people that U.S. troops will not be drawn into a Somalia-like quagmire of warlord-hunting.”
Defense Secretary William Perry went to Capitol Hill on Thursday to meet with Senate Armed Services Committee members and calm such fears.
But panel member Dan Coats, R-Ind., said the administration had “good intentions but no clear goals” and was acting “as if the memories and lessons of Somalia have been forgotten.”
U.S. forces entered Somalia to avert massive starvation in late 1992, but 18 U.S. troops were killed in a botched effort to capture Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Within months, U.S. forces withdrew.
Responding to queries about potential dangers of the Zaire mission, Pentagon spokesman Bacon said U.S. troops don’t intend to pick any fights with local combatants, but the troops will have enough firepower to defend themselves, including armored attack helicopters.
The Americans also intend to avoid the tricky job of disarming Hutu militiamen who live among the refugees, or even separating them from the refugees they hide among, Bacon said.
“We need a de facto cease-fire to take place,” Bacon said. Other issues that must be resolved include overflight rights, basing rights and agreements to use airports in countries stretching from Europe or the United States to Africa, he added.
He said the 1,000 U.S. troops would attempt to open a two-mile corridor from the Goma airport into a border town in Rwanda, where relief supplies are located.