UNITED NATIONS, July 7 (AP)--In a scathing indictment of the failure to halt the worst genocide since World War II, an international panel on Friday blamed the U.N. Security Council, the United States, France, Belgium, and the local Anglican and Catholic churches for allowing the slaughter of more than 500,000 Rwandans.

The seven-member panel created by the Organization of African Unity called for the international community--especially those countries that failed to prevent or help stop the 1994 genocide--to pay reparations to Rwanda ``in the name of both justice and accountability.''

The 90-day genocide, orchestrated by a small group of Hutu extremists against the Tutsi minority, followed a mysterious plane crash that killed Rwanda's President Juvenal Habyarimana.

More than a half million Tutsis and thousands of moderate Hutus were killed in the slaughter that ended when Tutsi-led rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front defeated the Hutu extremists in July 1994.

The OAU report is harsh in assessing blame, repudiating France's contention that it bears no responsibility for the genocide and President Bill Clinton's insistence that the United States failed to act because of ignorance.

``A small number of major actors could directly have prevented, halted, or reduced the slaughter. They include France in Rwanda itself; the U.S. at the Security Council; Belgium, whose soldiers knew they could save countless lives if they were allowed to remain in the country; and Rwanda's church leaders,'' the report said.

At a news conference launching the 318-page report, former Canadian Ambassador and panel member Stephen Lewis said the United States knew exactly what was going on--but blocked the Security Council from deploying an effective U.N. force because it had lost 18 U.S. soldiers in Somalia five months earlier and didn't want to become embroiled in Africa again.

``It's simply beyond belief that because of Somalia hundreds of thousands of Rwandans needlessly lost their lives,'' he said, calling the U.S. failure to respond to the genocide ``an almost incomprehensible scar of shame on American foreign policy.''

Personally, he said, ``I don't know how Madeleine Albright lives with it.'' At the time, the U.S. secretary of state was America's ambassador to the United Nations.

The panel concluded that France was closer than any other government to the Habyarimana regime and knew exactly what was happening, but did nothing to stop the genocide before it began.

``There is almost no redemptive feature to the conduct of the government of France,'' Lewis said.

Like the French government, the Catholic and Anglican hierarchies were blamed by the panel for failing to use ``their unique moral position among the overwhelmingly Christian population to denounce ethnic hatred and human rights abuses.''

The United Nations had a 2,500-strong peacekeeping mission in Rwanda when the genocide began, but governments pulled out all but a few hundred troops after 10 Belgian peacekeepers were killed.

An independent report on the U.N. role in the genocide, commissioned by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, concluded in December that the organization and its members lacked the political will and resources to prevent or stop the genocide.

It cited the Security Council failures, but the OAU report is far less diplomatic in blaming the key players.

Rwanda's U.N. Ambassador Joseph Mutaboba told reporters after the press conference that ``for the first time we have heard what we knew was true--and it has been said in very crude terms.''

``I'm talking about pointing a finger to where it had to be pointed in the first place--to adequately describe what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. That's very important,'' he said.

The report traces the roots of the genocide back to Rwanda's colonial rulers from Germany, and then Belgium, who along with Catholic missionaries fostered the belief that the country's minority Tutsis were superior to its Hutu majority.

It then links the genocide to the current unrest in the Great Lakes region of central Africa, centered on Congo, where the Security Council has delayed deployment of a peacekeeping mission because of continued violations of a 1999 cease-fire.

``If the Security Council fails to send U.N. forces into the Congo, sufficient to do the job...then the lessons of Rwanda fall into the void,'' Lewis warned.

Annan in a statement called the OAU report another important contribution to shedding more light on the Rwanda genocide and to grappling ``with the complex challenges of preventing genocide.''

The panel called on Annan to establish a commission to determine a formula for paying reparations to Rwanda and to identify which countries have an obligation to pay them.

The report notes that the United States, the United Nations, Belgium and the Anglican church have apologized for their failures in Rwanda--but no apology has come from France or the Catholic church.

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