THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY AID ADMINISTRATOR BRIAN ATWOOD The Briefing Room
3:30 P.M. EDT
MR. ATWOOD: I hope you'll bear with me a bit. I have a lot of information to pass on to you about actions that we have taken on the situation in Zaire relating to Rwandan refugees.
As you know, I returned yesterday as the President's representative to look at the situation, particularly in Goma. I was there just two days ago. I met today with the President to describe the situation to him. I believe he made a statement earlier today expressing his concern about the situation and committing the United States government to aggressive and immediate action to resolve this problem.
You all know from looking at news reports that we are seized in particular with the problem of cholera. When I was there a few days ago talking to doctors on the scene, it was apparent that the disease problem would be the first that we would have to deal with. People, generally speaking, had come across the border relatively well-fed. We knew that starvation would be a problem only after a matter of several days, and that, indeed, disease would be the first problem that we would have to deal with.
We had a meeting earlier with the NSC team, and a number of steps have been taken to move. You will be getting more details over the next several days, but several things are happening right now as we speak.
First, let me say that tomorrow the Secretary General of the United Nations will be making an appeal to donor nations to come forward with some $274 million worth of assistance to handle this particular crisis, a crisis, I might add that is growing. Additional refugees have been flowing out of the southwest quadrant into the area near Burundi. Some 800,000 have now been detected in that area, and we have an ICRC -- meaning Red Cross -- team that is there assessing the situation, and our disaster relief team is on its way.
This situation gets more complicated, obviously, by the minute. And our overall strategy is to try to position food inside Rwanda, in particular in the southwest quadrant, in order to keep people home and to attract them to return to the country.
Today we are prepared to announce an additional $41.4 millions in addition to the $35 million that had been announced earlier this week, making a total of $76 million of new money added to $109 million that we had provided to the Rwanda emergency to date. The new money will be used for 30,000 metric tons of grain, DOD logistical support, aid to the various relief organizations and U.N. agencies that are working in this area, and, in particular, a $6- million grant to deal with the problem of orphans, which is a very, very serious problem.
The Defense Department is prepared to establish an airhead facility, as it's called, in Entebbe, Uganda, which will be used to handle large quantities of food, medicines and equipment for this entire area. I would remind you that we are not just dealing with the Goma problem where 1.2 million refugees are, we are also dealing with a refugee camp in Uganda that has approximately 150,000 refugees, and a camp in Tanzania that has 450,000, in addition to the two in the southwest part of Zaire -- southwest portion of Rwanda on the border with Zaire, Bukavu and Kamanyola -- learning names of new cities every day.
I want to spend some time here talking about the cholera problem and, in particular, the need for clean water. This and the sanitation problem are the biggest causes of cholera. We are immediately shipping water supplies in addition to medicine to deal with the cholera problem.
Landing very soon in Goma from Frankfurt, transported by our Air Force, will be emergency health kits which contain essential drugs; 20 million packets of oral rehydration salts needed to deal with the cholera and diarrheal diseases that occur in situations like this; 3,600 kilograms of tents -- I know you're going to ask me how many tents that is; I'll have to try to get that information for you -- 7,500 kilograms of high protein biscuits; and large quantities of cholera kits, antibiotics and syringes.
We are making preparations to establish facilities to handle the refugees in the southwest part, in Bukavu, as well as looking at the possibility of assisting the French in maintaining the airport facilities in Goma itself.
We have shipped to Bukavu 84 metric tons of plastic sheeting. That will begin arriving today. I mentioned the 20 million packets of oral rehydration salts, the high protein biscuits and the emergency medical kits -- 1,500 metric tons of food will be provided in Goma through the Red Cross, arriving, again, today or tomorrow or in the next several hours; 120 tons of blankets; 135 tons of plastic sheeting; and four warehouses -- these are temporary warehouses that are used on the scene to store equipment and food. These will all be flown in on eight 707 aircraft. The first flight will be arriving tomorrow.
Our initiatives, of course, are not restricted exclusively to the humanitarian response on the ground in Goma and the other locations. We are also seized with the diplomatic challenge of working with the newly-formed government in Uganda --I'm sorry -- in Kigali. We know that this situation will not be handled until conditions are such that refugees will return to their country.
We are going to be prepositioning food distribution centers in Rwanda to encourage people to stay and to encourage people to return. We discussed today the problem of the clandestine radio that is urging Hutus to leave, and within a matter of hours I hope we will have equipment on the ground to deal with that problem. And we will, in the next few days, have our own radio facilities -- meaning the international community, the United Nations -- in order to send more positive messages to the people of Rwanda.
Clearly, the government that is in place, which we have not yet recognized and will not until they abide completely with the terms of the Arusha Agreement, is crucial in this mix of elements that are necessary to create the conditions so that people will return home. We will be sending high-level diplomatic envoys -- more details about that will be revealed in the next few days -- to work with that government and with the United Nations, the Security Council's representative in Kigali in order to see what progress we can make in assuring that that will be a power-sharing government that will inspire the confidence of the people who have left the country.
I think I've given you enough. I'll stop there and take questions.
Q Could you tell us, in terms of American or U.S. troops, what numbers might you be talking about? And would they actually be in Rwanda itself, as you seem to be indicating?
MR. ATWOOD: No, they will not be in Rwanda. I do not have the answer to your first question, how many troops will be involved. There will be troops and there will be civilians. They will be logistical personnel for the most part, although there is an open question as to whether or not some security needs to be provided. Those questions are being studied and we should have more information on that in a few days.
Q What do you say to the critics who say that the United States did not move quickly enough on this disaster -- you've been in the field and have moved as quickly as you can -- but this government, this White House, has not responded quickly enough?
MR. ATWOOD: Well, I think the announcements I've made today indicate that we're moving aggressively and immediately. The international community has never seen anything quite like this. I would remind you that this flow of refugees started occurring on the 13th of July -- what is today's date, the 21st. We haven't been that many days into this crisis. The world has never seen this many refugees arriving on a scene, a bucolic little town of Goma which had only 13,000 residents.
It is quite a sight to behold. The international community is being challenged not only by the Goma situation, but the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is handling problems all around the world. They're stretched beyond the breaking point. I think our government has an obligation to move to help the U.N. system respond to this crisis. I believe that we have done a great deal already. You will see tomorrow when the Secretary General makes his appeal that the United States is in the forefront and in the lead in causing the United Nations to respond adequately to the crisis.
Q Can you give us an idea of the number of U.S. personnel that would be sent? And they would be sent to Zaire obviously. What's the number which is being discussed right now?
MR. ATWOOD: That is being currently assessed. I can't give you the number; I don't have the number.
Q An estimate, a rough estimate?
MR. ATWOOD: Well, John Deutsch talked about the possibility of 1,000 or so being necessary, but that is being assessed. I can't have you use that number as the final number.
Q Has the President or have you been in touch with President Mobutu of Zaire, and what message are you relaying to him? And has there also been any message about the armed Rwandan army units that are going into Zaire?
MR. ATWOOD: We have been in touch with President Mobutu. His initial response was to send 600 members of the Presidential Guard from Kinshasa to help police the area.
With respect to the Rwanda military in Goma, there was an effort made to disarm them. I don't think the effort was 100 percent successful, but their presence is obviously of concern. The statements that they're making that they are planning to regroup is even of more concern, but it is not of immediate concern. There is no prospect that within the next few days they're going to come back over the border.
But it is essential that the international community look at this situation. It is essential, obviously, that we get a UNAMIR peacekeeping force positioned in Rwanda as soon as possible and that these Rwandan military people be demobilized. That is something that we're also seized with.
Q Can you talk a little bit more about the placement of food inside Rwanda, how that's going to work? Do you need the Rwandan government's permission, or is it going ahead without it, and under whose auspices is that? Is that the UNHCR or the U.S. doing it unilaterally?
MR. ATWOOD: The ICRC, the Red Cross, has had food distribution centers, obviously not of the size that we would like to see, and we will continue to work with them inside the country and with other NGOs. Now that there is a cease-fire we don't anticipate any problems from the new government in Rwanda, but that will be a matter for discussion on our agenda.
Q When you were last in Africa, there was some concern in the refugee camps about the total deforestation and ruining of the land. Is there anything being done in the camps to make sure that that's not continuing to happen?
MR. ATWOOD: It's happening. I mean, 1.2 million people -- I was in Goma and went to what I guess is the town hall area of the town where beautiful trees were outside. They were being chopped down as I was there and there will be very few trees around this area before long. This is contributing to the problem. They're burning wood fires. We need to get domestic fuel in so that we can solve that particular environmental problem. But in all of these things the environmental aspects -- it's going to be devastating.
Q Is there anything that we can do in terms of airstrips, runways? Is there any U.S. effort to try to expand the airport?
MR. ATWOOD: We're looking at that now. The airport facilities need to be expanded. The runway is adequate to handle even C-5s. The problem is the apron area and the cargo lift capacity. We badly need to turn planes around there very quickly. That is a question that is being studied and worked on with UNHCR, which is the lead agency, lead U.N. agency here, and it will not just be the United States but other governments that will be participating in this.
Q Did you make a recommendation on that to the President?
MR. ATWOOD: We have been discussing that. I have certainly made a recommendation which -- I think the question now is what other governments are prepared to do as well. That's being actively looked at.
Q Can you give us a rough idea of what kinds of additional things are under consideration to be announced in the next couple of days? There's obviously a great deal more that you would like to do. Can you give us a --
MR. ATWOOD: Well, you know what, it's more of the logistical support. What we still need more information on is what is happening in the south. We are very anxious to keep refugees home in the southwest quadrant. The French are obviously seized with this issue as well. We need to see what we can do in terms of setting up distribution centers there, and we need to handle the 800,000 that have gone over the border.
The Bukavu airport is not as capable of handling large aircraft as is the airport at Goma. So we'll have to look at that situation and see what we can do there. As I mentioned before, the immediate problem is the disease problem of cholera. That is going to be our top priority for the next few days. I think that's about all I should say on that subject.
Q Could you please elaborate on the point which you've raised on page two of this document about the U.N. force? When you say that the White House has encouraged the U.N. to move the 5,500 peacekeepers into Rwanda, the problem is that there is right now about 2,000 authorities, peacekeepers, we understand, already. So why do you suggest for the U.N. to gather this force? And do you have proof of the RPF having kind of the right to veto on the countries which would be on this force? The country has obtained the right to say yes on some countries and they don't want Frenchspeaking -- western country. So what's the policy on this?
MR. ATWOOD: I don't think it's a problem of the RPF government of having a veto. It's a question, obviously, of working with them on the composition of the force. There are some countries whose presence would be inappropriate given the history of the country.
Q When you say we're urging the French to stop threatening to withdraw from the safe zone in Rwanda, what exactly do you mean? And I was under the impression that the French were acting under U.N. mandate to take part to the end of August. So do you mean that they should stay even beyond that mandate even if it is not renewed? Or what exactly do you suggest?
MR. ATWOOD: No. I think that the relationship we have with the French is a very good one in discussing this problem. They have made public their position with respect to the removal of their troops. We do understand and share a sense of urgency with the French that we need to get a UNAMIR force in place.
Ambassador Albright met last night with the head of the peacekeeping director of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi, and discussed in some detail the composition of that force. We are now reassessing the need to provide heavy equipment to support that force. The reason for that is that there is a cease-fire. So long as that cease-fire holds, we don't feel we would need the same kind of heavy equipment to support that force. That is a very good thing because that means we can deploy the force even more quickly.
Q You mentioned that steps are being taken to deal with the clandestine radio that has been urging the Hutus to flee. Do you mean by that jamming? And is that a U.S. operation? Could you elaborate on that?
MR. ATWOOD: The French have imported -- I believe it's there by now -- when I met with the French general two days ago, he said it would take about two days to get this equipment down there. It's frequency detection equipment and jamming equipment.
Obviously, if this radio station is still operating within the southwest quadrant, we may be able to find it. It's probably operating in Zaire which means that we would have to resort to jamming to get this done.
We are prepared to be helpful. We believe the French can handle this. Nonetheless, we are watching this very closely because this radio station is not only inciting people to leave the country, it's also been putting out a lot of anti-U.N. rhetoric in recent days. And after the closing of the embassy of Rwanda here in Washington, there was even a lot of anti-American rhetoric. So it's a very dangerous message that's being given to the refugees and to the people still in the country.
Q Can you talk of a story this morning that said that to deal with the cholera epidemic you'd have to have a continuous stream of cargo planes coming in with just the materials for that? You've been there. Given what we're sending in, can you describe what kind of effect that's going to have? I mean, is this a lot of stuff compared to the need? Or is this just a drop in the ocean, just a start? How does it compare to the scale of what's needed?
MR. ATWOOD: I think that the materials that we'll be providing over the next couple of days will enable us to isolate the problem and deal with it. I'm not a doctor, and I'm not now on the scene. But certainly this will make a major contribution to dealing with the cholera epidemic. It is a matter of great urgency.
The people that have been infected by this disease need to be isolated. That's another organizational problem as well as a medical issue. So in the next few days we are hoping to get enough equipment, medicine to handle the problem. Then it becomes an issue of how to organize to handle the problem.
Q So cholera is the first thing that you're attacking with the AID program?
MR. ATWOOD: Yes. I mean, that doesn't mean that we're not sending plastic sheeting and tents and other things as well as food. But we're really putting a lot of stress on the cholera problem.
Q Can you tell us what precisely the new government in Kigali has to do to get American and other international recognition? And how much of a problem is it that you have a government that isn't recognized now? How much would it help if you were able to deal with one more closely?
MR. ATWOOD: Well, they're working very closely, obviously, with the Secretary General's representative, Mr. Khan, former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan. And we have no -- we've been talking to them, the State Department has been in touch with the RPF, General Kigame and also the new President and Prime Minister.
So there is no problem. They would obviously like to be recognized. Our strong feeling is that this has to be a representative government in accord with the agreement reached in Arusha. We will see. They've made a good beginning, I might say, in naming a Hutu as President and one as Prime Minister.
Q What is this million dollars for the orphans going to accomplish?
MR. ATWOOD: We're going to try to set up orphanages and provide medical treatment for these people, including psychological treatment if that's necessary. We have done this in a number of other countries, including in Vietnam, and believe that in this case it is essential. There are thousands of orphans, and more every day because one of the reports I had was that some of the parents are abandoning their children, perhaps thinking they'll get better care; I don't know. But it's a problem.
Q Are we sending in medical teams?
MR. ATWOOD: We will certainly send in medical teams, but I'm not prepared to give you details on that at this point.
Q What's the biggest problem you face in preventing this from becoming a long-term problem, as opposed to a short-term problem? What's the biggest thing the -- community has to do to convince people who have gone into Zaire, who have been told by radio broadcast to go into Zaire, that it's safe enough to go back into Rwanda?
MR. ATWOOD: We're going to need the cooperation of the new government. We're going to need them not only to be sending the right signals rhetorically to people on the outside, we're also going to need to see them taking actions that show their goodwill. That means setting up a rule of law system. That means clearly they're interested in dealing with the war criminals problem. But on the other hand, they have to do that in accordance with internationally recognized standards, judicial standards. They have agreed already to do that. But even all of that is not enough. We will also require an effective UNAMIR force that makes all of Rwanda a safe zone.
Q But what has to be done on the ground to convince people in these refugee camps in Goma and other places that they should return to Rwanda? What's going to convince them?
MR. ATWOOD: Well, those things will, I think, convince them. We need, obviously, to find ways to communicate with them. We need to communicate with them through their own leaders as well. We need to communicate with them over a radio that will be offering positive messages to them from people that they trust. All of those things have to be done.
Q On this list, you mention that there are former Rwandan government forces in Goma and elsewhere who are apparently armed; you're going to disarm them. Is that a significant problem? And what would happen if U.S. forces were there on a humanitarian mission and were fired upon by these people?
MR. ATWOOD: For the most part, they're not armed. They have left their rifles as they went across the border. The Zaire military collected weapons, any weapons that they could detect in any case. The issue is not so much that they represent a current threat to the people and the population or anyone who would go into work with the people. The issue is the statements that they're making that they want to regroup and reinvade the country, and that they want to acquire new weapons in order to do that.
They've made those public statements. That, obviously, is of concern to us. We would like to see them disbanded as a military force.
Q How long before UNAMIR is up and running?
MR. ATWOOD: UNAMIR is up and running now with 450 people -- not an adequate force. We are looking to accelerate the augmentation of that force. We're talking about, I think, a matter of weeks, but I can't give you a specific on that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END4:00 P.M. EDT