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Operation TAMAR

Australia: 25 July 1994 - 8 March 1996.

AO: Rwanda and the areas in Uganda, Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Burundi and Tanzania that are not more than 50 kilometres from the border with Rwanda.

Background: Fighting between the Armed Forces of the mainly Hutu Government of Rwanda and the Tutsi-led Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) first broke out in October 1990 across the border between Rwanda and its northern neighbour, Uganda. A number of ceasefire agreements followed but hostilities resumed in the northern part of the country in early February 1993. The United Nations active involvement in Rwanda started in 1993, when Rwanda and Uganda requested the deployment of military observers along the common border to prevent the military use of the area by RPF. In October 1993, the Security Council established another international force, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), to help the parties implement the agreement, monitor its implementation and support the transitional Government. UNAMIR's demilitarized zone sector headquarters was established upon the arrival of the advance party and became operational on 1 November 1993. Deployment of the UNAMIR battalion in Kigali, composed of contingents from Belgium and Bangladesh, was completed in the first part of December 1993, and the Kigali weapons-secure area was established on 24 December.

The United Nations solicited troop contributions, but initially only Belgium with a half a battalion of 400 troops, and Bangladesh with a logistical element of 400 troops, offered personnel. It took five months to reach the authorized strength of 2,548. But because of many unresolved issues between the parties, implementation of the agreement was delayed. Consequently, the inauguration of the transitional Government never took place. Within a background of distrust and revenge, in April 1994, the Presidents of Rwanda and of Burundi were killed while returning from peace talks in Tanzania, when the Rwandese plane crashed, in circumstances that are still to be determined, as it was landing in Kigali, Rwanda's capital. This set off a tidal wave of political and ethnic killings: the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers and UNAMIR peacekeepers were among the first victims. The killings, targeting Tutsi and moderate Hutus, were mainly carried out by the armed forces, the presidential guard and the ruling party's youth militia. The RPF resumed its advance from the north and the east of Rwanda, and government authority disintegrated.

An interim Government was formed, but failed to stop the massacres. With the RPF's southward push, the number of displaced persons and refugees increased tremendously. On 28 April alone, 280,000 people fled to Tanzania to escape the violence. Another wave of refugees went to Zaire. The United Nations and other agencies provided emergency assistance on an unprecedented scale. UNAMIR sought to arrange a ceasefire, without success, and its personnel came increasingly under attack. However US pressure mounted in New York to reduce the UN involvement. After some countries unilaterally withdrew their contingents, the Security Council on 21 April 1994, reduced UNAMIR's strength from 2,548 to 270. Despite its reduced presence, UNAMIR troops managed to protect thousands of Rwandese who took shelter at sites under UNAMIR control.

UNAMIR could do little to stop the genocide. As the situation worsened, Belgium withdrew its UN personnel and it was debated if all of UNAMIR should be withdrawn. However, on 17 May 1994, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo against Rwanda, and called for urgent international action and increased UNAMIR's strength to up to 5,500 troops. Known as UNAMIR II, its task was to "contribute to the security and protection of displaced persons, refugees and civilians at risk in Rwanda", including, where possible, the establishment of "secure humanitarian areas". Australia agreed to send a medical team to provide support for UNAMIR II personnel and, as a secondary role, to provide humanitarian relief to the Rwandans.

To contribute to the security of civilians, the Council authorized a multi-national humanitarian operation. French-led multinational forces carried out "Operation Turquoise", which established a humanitarian protection zone in south-western Rwanda. The operation ended in August 1994 and UNAMIR took over in the zone. In July, RPF forces took control of Rwanda, ending the civil war, and established a broad-based Government. The new Government declared its commitment to the 1993 peace agreement and assured UNAMIR that it would cooperate on the return of refugees. By October 1994, estimates suggested that out of a population of 7.9 million, at least half a million people had been killed. Some 2 million had fled to other countries and as many as 2 million people were internally displaced. A United Nations humanitarian appeal launched in July raised $762 million, making it possible to respond to the enormous humanitarian challenge. A Commission of Experts established by the Security Council reported in September that "overwhelming evidence" proved that Hutu elements had perpetrated acts of genocide against the Tutsi group in a "concerted, planned, systematic and methodical way." The final report of the Commission was presented to the Council in December 1994.

ADF: July 1994 - March 1996. Australia agreed to send a medical team to provide support for UNAMIR II personnel and, as a secondary role, to provide humanitarian relief to the Rwandans.

Australia sent two contingents to Rwanda, each one serving for six months. The first Australian contingent, comprising 308 members, mostly arrived in the country in late August. Later known as AUSMED, the Australian Medical Support Force provided UNAMIR’s medical support and was made up of a medical company, an infantry company group from 2/4 RAR, four Armoured Personnel Carriers, Signals and a logistic support company. The medical company included two specialist surgical teams, a preventative medical section, a medical support platoon (providing pathology and pharmacy functions), and a dental capacity. The medical unit was not based on an established medical unit but instead drew its members from the three services - 17 from the RAAF, seven from the RAN, and the rest from the army. Twenty-six members of the medical team were women.

Flying into Kigali, the Australians based themselves at the Kigali Central Hospital, which had been badly damaged during the fighting. They set up an operating theatre in the only room without holes in the roof from mortar shells. The Australians also had the only working X-ray centre in Rwanda, the only blood bank, the only intensive care unit, and the only air-conditioned operating theatre.

Although the contingent was tasked to provide medical assistance to UNAMIR II, most cases treated by the Australians were Rwandans. The contingent also trained local hospital staff and sent small groups to provincial towns to provide medical aid. Infantry soldiers accompanied the medical teams and gave them protection.

The second contingent that took over from the first during the last weeks of February 1995 included B Company 2 RAR, engineers from the 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment, and armoured personnel carriers from B Squadron 3rd/4th Cavalry Regiment. Surgeons and other medical specialists, mainly from the Army Reserve, as well as the RAN and RAAF Reserve, were rotated through the force on a six-week basis.

On 19 April 1995 a group of 32 Australian soldiers and medical personnel were sent to the Kibeho refugee camp to assist refugees and UNAMIR activities. The situation within the camp was desperate. There was little food or water and the refugees, mostly Hutu who may have taken part in the earlier genocide, were harassed by the RPF.

From 20 to 23 April the RPF began to close down and empty the camp. The already tense situation descended into a violent massacre, with the RPF killing around 4,000 people and injuring 600. Under fire and often under the threat of the RPF, the Australians managed to set up a Casualty Evacuation station and conduct triage and treatment for the wounded Hutus. The medical team struggled to cope with the sheer volume of wounded, many of whom were evacuated to Kigali hospital. In addition to the Australian troops, a company of Zambian peacekeepers was also in Kibeho when the massacre began. Restricted by the UN Mandate and the Rules of Engagement, the Australian soldiers could only look on in horror as to what had unfolded in front of them. It was later argued that UN presence at Kibeho stopped the RPF from killing everyone in the camp and creating an even worse outcome.

click here to see the Press Release and interviews 'Remembering the forgotten Diggers'.

After the Kibeho massacre the Australians concentrated on training the Rwandans to whom they handed over some hospital duties. In August the Australians were replaced by a team of 30 civilians from Norway.

The MSF was awarded the RSL ANZAC Peace Prize in 1995, for outstanding restoration of peace in the strife-torn central African nation.

Deployed: 652 (Total with ASC1 & ASC2 rotations). Medical Support Force – comprising ADF Medical and Surgical Personnel, Infantry Rifle Company, APC Section, Engineers, Signals, RAEME and supporting elements.

Wounded: 3

Veterans’ Entitlements Determination dated 26th March 2006: Warlike Service.

Awards: *Australian Active Service Medal (AASM) with Clasp ‘ RWANDA’ ; UNAMIR Medal.
* Upgraded from Australian Service Medal Gazette S79 dated 23 May 2006.

AASM 1988
AASM with Clasp