Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be participating in this important debate. I want to thank my hon. colleagues for their participation to this point.
As members of the House are well aware, the situation in the great lakes region of Africa remains extremely fluid. Indeed it continues to evolve as we speak. We face a major humanitarian crisis in eastern Zaire and in Rwanda.
Last week approximately one and a half million refugees were either huddling in makeshift camps or fleeing from conflict. The plight of these men, women and children is absolutely desperate.
The efforts of international humanitarian agencies to reach those in need were being impeded by warring factions. Hundreds of thousands of lives are in jeopardy. Canada was not prepared to stand by and watch another African tragedy unfold. We decided to respond.
Canada took the lead in organizing a multinational approach to ensure the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance in the region. I am sure that all members of the House would agree with me that the Prime Minister's initiative over the last 10 days has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams because already the situation has changed dramatically and for the better.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees have taken to the roads to return to their communes in Rwanda. This exodus which all of us are witnessing will go a long way toward resolving the humanitarian crisis in eastern Zaire.
Surely we can all agree that it is much too early to say that the crisis is over. For example, we believe there are still approximately 500,000 refugees in Zaire. There are people still in need. Those who are the healthiest are the ones who were able to return to Rwanda first. Yet it is impossible at this moment for anyone to determine the true extent of the crisis.
So, faced with this uncertainty we continue to take the preliminary steps with our coalition partners that are necessary to mount a relief effort. We continue to examine every option as the situation in the region evolves. To that end Canadian forces continue to prepare for possible deployment. Over the coming days as we assess the situation we want to make sure that they are capable of acting if that is required.
That Canada should take a lead in this endeavour should come as no surprise. Canada has a long and proud tradition of promoting international stability and coming to the aid of those in need.
The Canadian Forces have the capability to make a real difference. Canada has one of the most professional and respected military organizations in the world. Our armed forces have what it takes to lead a multinational relief effort.
We have participated in almost every peacekeeping mission undertaken over the last 50 years, from traditional peacekeeping and observer missions to the more complex operations of the post-Cold War era, including humanitarian relief operations.
Of course, we have extensive military experience in Central Africa itself. From the Congo operation of the early 1960s to more recent operations in Somalia and Rwanda, we know the challenges: inhospitable terrain, a harsh climate, armed and hostile rebel groups.
We have already deployed an assessment team to the great lakes region. This team will help assist ongoing multinational planning. If necessary, we are prepared to contribute approximately 1,500 military personnel to a humanitarian relief force.
This contribution could include the core of a task force headquarters responsible for command, control and communications for a multinational force. We could also provide the core of the air component headquarters, which would help direct air operations for such a task force, as well as a DART disaster assistance response team for humanitarian assistance to refugees, including troops for protection. This team would include a field hospital and a transportation element, Hercules transport aircraft, and associated personnel to assist in the delivery of humanitarian aid, and a national support element.
All of these elements could deploy quickly to staging bases in the region. DART is a specialized military unit of highly trained professionals. It includes medical personnel, engineers, a transport and communications unit, and an infantry platoon for security.
DART can provide medical resources to treat up to 500 patients a day, as well as electrical power and drinking water for up to 10,000
people per day. It can also build temporary shelters and provide communications and logistics support.
Some of the lead elements of DART are already in eastern Zaire.
By the end of today, we will have almost 250 personnel in theatre, with 4 Hercules and 1 Airbus aircraft, as well as some DART equipment and vehicles. The balance of the DART equipment and personnel is assembled in Trenton and ready to go.
Other augmentation personnel have been identified from across the Canadian Forces. In short, the Canadian Forces are poised to do what needs to be done. But any decision to participate in a humanitarian relief effort in eastern Zaire will be based on specific guidelines.
To begin with, all regional governments must acquiesce to the presence of a multinational force.
In addition to the need to have the agreement of the governments in that region before we move, we also of course need a clear and achievable mandate. The security council mandate calls for the establishment for humanitarian purposes of a temporary multinational force to facilitate the immediate return of humanitarian organizations and the effective delivery by civilian relief organizations of humanitarian aid. It also calls for a force that will facilitate the voluntary orderly repatriation of refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the voluntary return of displaced persons.
Additionally, any mission must be of limited duration. The UN Security Council resolution envisages a mission of four months, but recent events may well indicate that this may be longer than is necessary.
The multinational force called for by the security council resolution would operate under chapter VII of the UN charter with robust rules of engagement. These rules of engagement would allow our troops for example to use deadly force to protect themselves, relief personnel, and in certain situations, refugees.
We must have a clear and effective command and control structure in place. Lieutenant-General Maurice Baril, commander, land force command, will lead the force. General Baril is a perfect fit for such a command. He was a battalion commander in Cyprus and was special military adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General from 1992 to 1995.
General Baril is now en route to the region and he will arrive there today. Following discussions with Ambassador Chrétien, representatives from various NGOs and local authorities, General Baril will provide the Government of Canada with his strategic assessment of the military situation. I am pleased to advise that there will be a meeting in Stuttgart, Germany on Thursday at which General Baril and representatives of the contributing nations will make further decisions as to what type of force we should have in place and how the humanitarian relief operation should be conducted.
I have been telling the House what this multinational relief force might do. Let me take a moment to tell the House what it will not do. It will not conduct forced entry operations. It will not be responsible for overall repatriation or integration of refugees. It will not intervene in factional or local conflicts. It will not deal with territorial disputes. It will not separate the intimidators from the refugees, nor will it disarm the intimidators. It will not secure the perimeter of refugee camps. It will not provide police functions within the camps.
I am sure that all members in this House will agree that the parties in the region must find their own solutions to the political and social problems they face.
There is no doubt that over the years we have built a reputation as a nation for being there when it counts. We believe it is critical that we not only contribute but lead a force that would help stabilize central Africa and save hundreds of thousands of lives.
I want to thank the American government and the military leaders of the United States for their co-operation. Although we have the lead and the command of this operation, we obviously do not have all of the resources to be able to take on the logistics that are required if we were to continue down the path that we have chosen.
I want to repeat, because I have heard it said over and over again, that we are monitoring the situation hour to hour, if not minute to minute. We understand the changes that have already taken place. Let me say that no one is enthusiastic about having to commit Canadian men and women to a situation that is extremely volatile and very complex. We are doing what we must do. We have moved to this position as a result of a great deal of consensus in the international community.
I want to say to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the Canadian people, that I know that as I have complete confidence in the men and women of the Canadian forces, I have no doubt Canadians from coast to coast to coast share that confidence. The skill of the Canadian forces, their commitment, their experience, their leadership qualities are second to none. The Canadian forces once again are ready to do the job and I have every confidence they will do it well.