UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has admitted he could have done more to stop the genocide of about 800,000 Rwandans exactly 10 years ago, says he is determined to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.

Annan, who headed the department of peacekeeping operations when the slaughter took place in the presence of a UN military force (UNAMIR) in Rwanda in 1994, will soon appoint a 'special adviser on the prevention of genocide', perhaps as early as next week.

UN Spokesman Fred Eckhard says the new official will deal primarily with the prevention of genocide, the systematic and planned extermination of a national, racial or ethnic group.

"This is something the secretary-general feels very strongly about," Eckhard said, adding that Annan also intends to develop "a plan of action" to ensure that no mass slaughter of people will ever happen again.

But human rights activists, US academics and UN diplomats remain sceptical that a special adviser could be effective. The actions of such an official would require the consent of the 15-member UN Security Council, says Christian Davenport, associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.

"There needs to be an agreement in advance, with prior commitment to send troops, publicly made," said Davenport, author of the just-released study, 'Rwandan Genocide 10th Anniversary: Correcting the Record'.

"There needs to be an international commitment to the prevention of mass killings," he added in an interview. "To do this requires also a recognition that in most instances there are few, if any, 'good' among the warring parties."

It also means the United Nations must be prepared to provide governance and stability in areas where mass killings are either under way or believed to be so, said Davenport. Also, there needs to be a systematic and open UN-led data collection effort, in order to accurately document events.

Not having such a record, "influences not only our understanding of what is taking place, but also, in the context of a democracy, it hinders our capacity to mobilise large sections of the population," added Davenport, who is also consultant for the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda based in Arusha, Tanzania.

Christian Scherrer of the Netherlands-based Genocide Research Project thinks that genocide could be prevented only by creating a rapid reaction mechanism and a genocide alert and early warning system.

At a more practical level, he calls for the prosecution of all perpetrators of genocide. UN agencies such as the UN Development Programme and donor states, he adds, should impose conditionalities on development aid in cases of organized forms of state criminality.

Last week, Annan said that if the international community had acted promptly and with determination, it could have stopped most of the killings in Rwanda. But the political will was not there, nor were the troops, he added.

The Belgian government warned then Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1994 of an impending genocide and also pleaded for a stronger UN peacekeeping force. But it was rebuffed by members of the Security Council, specifically the United States and Britain.

Annan also said that as head of the UN's peacekeeping department he pressed several member states for troops. "I believed at that time that I was doing my best. But I realized after the genocide that there was more that I could and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support."

Annan's decision to appoint a special adviser to prevent genocide comes at a time when more than one million people have fled the Darfur region of western Sudan, caught up in one of the longest running civil wars in Africa.

In a commentary in the 'New York Times' on Tuesday, Samantha Power of Harvard University said that about 10,000 international peacekeepers are needed to stop the killings in Darfur. US President George W Bush will have to press Sudan to agree to a UN mission - and to convince UN member states to sign on to the plan, she added.

On Friday, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland characterised the ongoing "ethnic cleansing" in Sudan as "one of the world's worst, and one of its most neglected humanitarian crises".

Most of the attacks, directed at communities of black Africans by ethnic Arab militias, specifically targeted civilian populations, he said. "Entire villages had been looted and burned down, and large numbers of civilians had been raped, tortured and killed," Egeland told reporters.

He called the killings "a systematic depopulation of areas". An Asian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS that most diplomats familiar with human rights violations would express doubts about the worthiness of a UN adviser to prevent genocide.

"We have had dozens of UN special rapporteurs investigating human rights violations. But unfortunately there are also several member states which have refused to allow these officials to visit their countries," he said.

He pointed out what he called "the classic example of Israel", which he said has been accused of indiscriminately killing Palestinian civilians. Following a Security Council resolution in April 2002, Annan named a UN fact-finding mission to probe the killings of Palestinian refugees in the Jenin refugee camp in Israeli- occupied territories.

The Israeli government not only refused to cooperate with the United Nations but also denied permission for the UN team to enter the area. -Dawn/The InterPress News Service.

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