A global lack of willpower was to blame for the failure to prevent Rwanda's 1994 genocide, Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary-general, acknowledged Monday. But he said he had no personal regrets for decisions he made then as head of U.N. peacekeeping.
"The fundamental failure" in the Rwandan situation "was the lack of political will, not the lack of information," said Annan, reading a prepared statement at a news conference in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, one of the stops on his eight-nation Africa tour.
While falling short of an apology, his comments were similar to those made by President Clinton on his tour last month of Africa: that the world had failed the people of Rwanda.
Annan's remarks, coming just four days before his first trip to Rwanda as the top U.N. official, came in response to a May 11 New Yorker article asserting that his office in effect dismissed a warning of the impending genocide from the commander of peacekeepers in Rwanda on Jan. 11, 1994, three months before the start of the slaughter of more than 800,000 Rwandans, most of them ethnic Tutsis.
The New Yorker says Annan received a fax about the then-government's plans to exterminate Tutsis and gave the order not to intervene. Full details of the cable reportedly were forwarded to the American, French and Belgian ambassadors in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, the day after the report was sent to New York.
But none of the three Western powers was willing to act.
Annan dismissed the article as "an old story that has been rehashed" and added that he thought "too much is being made out of one cable."
"The crucial issue today is not how to apportion blame," but rather "asking how we can ensure that such a tragedy can never happen again and how the international community can best assist the people and government of Rwanda in the enormously difficult process of rebuilding a united community and healing the wounds of the past," Annan said.
Asked if he had personal regrets about the whole episode, Annan replied: "No, I don't."
Anger over the world's failure to prevent the 1994 bloodbath has made Rwandan authorities defensive about their methods of punishing those convicted of the slaughter.
_ Information from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.