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Former UN commander Dallaire writes book on Rwanda massacre

Dutch-born officer criticizes Belgian troops

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

BRUSSELS - A 2003 book written by Canadian retired Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire is highly critical about the inaction of the otherwise experienced Belgian soldiers to protect Rwandan civilians from genocide. The Belgians were attached to Dallaire’s 1993 command of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Rwanda. ‘Shake Hands With the Devil – The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda’ is Dallaire’s account of the mission and the genocide which cost the lives of hundreds of thousands Tutsi’s.

Although the Netherlands-born retired general largely blames himself and U.S. and France foreign policy for the scope of the unchecked genocide, Dallaire rakes the hundreds of Belgian soldiers over the coals as well. The troops rampaged through the towns and villages, often were drunk and spent more time in brothels than on duty. Dallaire claims the Belgians displayed no discipline.

As the death toll mounted, General Dallaire submitted a detailed plan for a Rapid Reaction Force. He needed 5,000 soldiers to stop Hutu murderers and dismantle the Hutu ethnic power movement. The UN Security Council rejected the plan. The United States even refused to acknowledge the genocide, avoiding any legal obligations to help.

Dubious role UN and US

On the first night of the civil war, Rwandan government forces murdered Tutsi and Hutu moderate politicians. Dallaire dispatched one unit of ten Belgian peacekeepers to secure the home of Rwanda’s prime minister. The Belgians were by far the most experienced of his soldiers but were ambushed, taken prisoner and later tortured, mutilated and murdered.

The Belgian government immediately pulled its soldiers out of Rwanda, blaming Dallaire personally for his ‘failure to take care of his own troops.’ Days earlier, Premier Dehaene had pledged to send more troops. Dallaire feels that he would have been able to quell the revolt with about 3,000 U.N. soldiers from Belgium and France. The Belgians let him down instead.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Published in North America in 2003, Shake Hands With the Devil – The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda recently also was released in a French translation.

Dallaire, who after his Rwandan posting was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stess Disorder and discharged from the Canadian Armed Forces on medical grounds, still has strong bouts with depression. In recent years, Dallaire has taken to the lecture circuit. This year, he will go to the prestigious Harvard Carr Center on a fellowship where he will study and write about conflict resolution. He also works with the Canadian government on the plight of war-affected children.

Lt.-Gen. (Ret.) Roméo Dallaire, the son of Canadian officer Joseph Romeo Louis Dallaire and his Dutch wife Catherina Vermaesen, was born in Denekamp, the Netherlands.