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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Canada to Head Aid Force in Zaire

GOMA, Zaire -- Canada emerged Tuesday as the likely leader of a multinational intervention force to aid starving refugees in eastern Zaire while the first cases of cholera were reported to have broken out. UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali told a news conference in Rome he expected more than 12 countries would make up the Canadian-led force and hoped that the United States would provide logistical support.

"I hope in the next few days we will be able to have these multinational forces and we will have a mandate from the Security Council," Boutros-Ghali said.

After almost a month of crisis in the Great Lakes area, momentum finally seemed to be building up on Tuesday behind a military force to help some 1.2 million refugees fleeing fighting between Tutsi rebels and Zaire's army.

The UN chief said he had been in contact with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Monday and welcomed Canada's leading role in efforts to bring vital relief.

"I express my gratitude to Canada. Canada has accepted to command these multinational forces ... Canada is a very neutral country," he said.

UN special envoy Raymond Chretien said on Tuesday approval for the Canadian-led force could come within a week.

"Approval for a multinational force should come within a minimum of seven days," he said.

Meanwhile, France, which has pushed for intervention in the region but is deeply distrusted by Rwanda's Tutsi-dominated government, said on Tuesday it hoped the United Nations would be in a position to approve a mandate within hours.

With the situation on the ground rapidly deteriorating, a UN-funded doctor said Tuesday cholera had broken out at a hillside camp where some 250,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees were sheltering, held hostage by former Rwandan Hutu militia and troops and defeated Zairean soldiers.

Walter Bonifazio, a medical doctor with the UN-funded agency Doctors in Catastrophic Situations, said the refugees were trapped at the village of Mwenga, 200 kilometers west of the border town of Bukavu.

"The human loss will be impossible to calculate, it is a bomb, a very big bomb, and the people will die like flies unless help reaches them soon," the doctor added.

Most of the refugees in eastern Zaire are Rwandan Hutus who fled Rwanda in 1994 when rebels of the Tutsi minority ousted the Hutu-dominated government which had orchestrated the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Defeated Hutu militia and soldiers in exile have joined Zairean troops in the fight against Tutsi rebels known as Banyamulenge who first migrated to what is now Zaire some 200 years ago.

Some aid workers returned Tuesday to rebel-held Goma in eastern Zaire but distribution of food and medical supplies was delayed by long talks between aid agency officials and rebel leaders.

The food and medical aid, which reached Goma from Rwanda on Monday, remained under rebel guard at Goma's main football stadium aboard seven trucks.