America's killing fields

Friday, April 9, 2004

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- A display praising the merits of peacekeeping that cited the killing of native North Americans as the world's worst genocide shouldn't be considered a jab at the United States, Belgian defense officials said Thursday.

Defense Ministry spokesman Gerard Vareng denied criticism that the display carried an anti-American message.

The display at the monument of the Unknown Soldier in Brussels this week was meant to honor Belgian soldiers who died in humanitarian missions.

It included a panel listing North America as the continent of the world's worst genocide with a death toll of 15 million, starting with Christopher Columbus' 1492 arrival in the New World but with no end date.

The daily De Standaard called the display -- that was also covered extensively in a defense ministry publication -- insulting to Washington.

It said Defense Minister Andre Flahaut, who has tangled with U.S. officials in recent months, effectively blamed the United States for killing 15 million people "in a genocide that continues to this day."

The newspaper complained about a "curious" list of genocides that mentioned Nazi Germany, Rwanda, Cambodia, Armenia and other countries -- but ignored killings in the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin and Europe's colonial past in Africa, including Belgium's role in the Congo.

Vareng said "the peacekeeping display was the work of historical experts. They took the list of genocides and the numbers of people who died in them on the Encyclopedia of Genocide" by Israel W. Charny, head of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem.

He said the two-volume encyclopedia, published in 1999, is a "very serious book that deals with all kinds of genocides."

The ceremony this week at the Monument of the Unknown Soldier coincided with the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in which at least 500,000 people died. Estimates have ranged as high as 1 million.

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