French admit Rwanda rebels have won war

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Francois Mitterrand of France and the leadership of the Rwandan rebel movement struggled to avoid confrontation yesterday, making conciliatory statements to ease the tension caused by belligerent comments from both sides.

As French troops reinforced their positions around Gikongoro to protect their 'humanitarian zone' for refugees about five miles from the rebel front lines, the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) halted its advance to consolidate its capture of Kigali, the capital, and Butare. Both sides indicated they would not attack each other without provocation, the French acknowledging that the mainly Tutsi RPF had won the civil war in Rwanda, and the RPF hinting that it might not try to take the rest of the country by force.

Speaking in South Africa, President Mitterrand said France was not at war and assumed that its troops were not going to be attacked. He said it was clear the RPF was winning the civil war and promised France would do nothing to sway the outcome of the conflict. 'The French government has decided to maintain the mission of the troops, asking them not to get into conflict with the military forces of Rwanda. It is not our place,' he said.

Meanwhile, Paul Kagame, the military leader of the RPF, said in Kigali that the rebels would soon announce a ceasefire. 'The RPF will declare a broad-based government of national unity within days . . . The RPF should now be considered as the government and the former government should be considered as rebels.' But he added: 'The French must recognise our sovereign rights in our own country. We don't mind having zones where civilians will be protected but the way the matter is being handled raises questions. It comes across as a threat.'

On Monday, one of the French commanders said that if the RPF approached the humanitarian zone his troops would open fire without hesitation.

In London, Theogen Rudasingwa, the general secretary of the RPF, said that the war was not over, but hinted that it may not be necessary for the RPF to take the north-west of the country, a strong Hutu area, by force. He condemned the French intervention and said it was a continuation of the policy of support for the previous, exclusively Hutu, government. The French presence would not stop the RPF completing its mission he said, but added that the RPF would not seek confrontation with the French troops.

One of the leaders of the defeated government army also hinted it may be time to negotiate. Brigadier-General Leonidas Rusatira told reporters at Gikongoro yesterday: 'We are all Rwandans. In the future we will have to be together. It is even more important tomorrow than today.'

Even if there is now a lull in the fighting it will take months, even years, for the physical damage to be repaired. Many observers are certain that Tutsis and Hutus can never live together again. There is nowhere in this country, which is slightly larger than Wales, unaffected by the killing. The death toll, largely from genocidal murder by gangs armed with spears, clubs and machetes, is estimated at between 250,000 and 500,000. Whole families and villages have been wiped out and almost all the survivors have fled their homes. Those homes have all been looted and the capital is smashed after 10 weeks of street fighting. All the other large towns have been destroyed.

At the United Nations the Secretary- General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali publicly endorsed France's decision to set up humanitarian zones in Rwanda, but several Security Council members were uneasy. A spokesman said France's action was covered by the Security Council resolution agreeing to the intervention of French troops in Rwanda.

France agonises over strategy, page 11

Leading article, page 15

A very French affair, page 16