Rwanda ceasefire talks fail to end butchery on the streets

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The Independent Online
ATTEMPTS to negotiate a ceasefire between the mainly Hutu government forces and rebels from the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) yesterday faltered as the two sides clashed on the outskirts of the capital, Kigali, using mortars, grenades and automatic weapons.

Earlier, there were reports that the streets were strewn with bodies and that soldiers had slaughtered wounded in hospital beds. Foreign troops scrambled to transport their nationals away from the carnage. The city braced itself for fresh assaults from RPF columns reportedly marching from the north and said, in unconfirmed reports from outside the capital, to be 'hours away'.

The plan to move out the 3,000 foreigners living in the country, organised jointly by the French and Belgians with help from US Marines in the Burundi capital, Bujumbura, got under way last night after the arrival of 800 Belgian paratroops. Some 450 French citizens who have left Kigali were due to arrive in Paris late last night; 150 had earlier escaped overland into neighbouring Burundi in a convoy organised by the US Marines. The Foreign Office has advised Britons to leave.

Communications are fractured and the situation in the capital and elsewhere confused. Rwandans contacted by Belgian radio said they were too frightened to go into the streets. Roving gangs, including renegade army troops, continued the bloodletting. Most victims were Tutsis. One terrified woman said she had spent three days in the dark, barricaded in her house with hungry children and no food.

Hospitals are running short of dressings and plasma, and yesterday the Rwandan ambassador in Paris appealed for food and medicines. A spokesman for Medecins sans Frontieres estimated the death toll 'must be thousands'.

The ceasefire between the army and the RPF was being negotiated by the United Nations representative, Jacques-Roger Booh Booh.

RPF forces are thought to number about 20,000 men against the 30,000- strong Rwandan army. It is not clear how much of the army is loyal to the interim government formed at the weekend, most of whose members are reportedly close to the murdered president. Belgian press reports have suggested only the support of the elite presidential guard could be relied upon and that many other soldiers had sold arms for food and mutinied amid the mayhem.

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