Rwandan slaughter fills lake with up to 40,000 bodies

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KAMPALA (Reuter) - The bloated and mutilated corpses of up to 40,000 Rwandans have been washed into Lake Victoria after being swept more than 100km (60 miles) down the swollen Kagera river from Rwanda.

Uganda, on the northern side of the lake, has declared three districts disaster areas, and appealed for international help to dispose of the bodies.

The dead men, women and children are covered in machete wounds. Some have been shot or have had limbs or heads sliced off. Most are said to be members of the minority Tutsi tribe slaughtered by the majority Hutus. Aid officials estimate that 500,000 have been killed in Rwanda in the last seven weeks.

In the Rwandan capital, Kigali, rebels captured the airport and army barracks yesterday, putting themselves in a strong position to overrun the city and the half of the country not yet under their control. The mainly Hutu Rwandan army put up little resistance to the onslaught of the mainly Tutsi Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels, witnesses said. Asked what was now the RPF's target, a senior officer said: 'The city and then the country.'

The rebels took the airport at 6am local time yesterday, and then pressed home their attack on the barracks which had until recently been held by 4,000 government troops. Hundreds of civilians sheltering in the barracks and neighbouring areas fled the battle and headed for the relative safety of the airport, now in rebel hands. United Nations soldiers disarmed the civilians as they reached the airport. They then ordered them to sit by the runway, where about 600 had already gathered, watched by RPF fighters.

UN soldiers loaded scores of machetes taken from the civilians into an armoured troop carrier. One man who crossed the runway with a machete in one hand and a small girl in the other was disarmed by a UN peace-keeper.

The latest rebel victory did little to ease the UN's problems in trying to end the massacres and fighting in Rwanda. For the fourth consecutive day, UN aircraft bringing desperately needed humanitarian aid were prevented from landing at the airport. No one knows when it will be safe to use it.

The Rwandan army Chief of Staff, General Augustin Bizimungu, said his troops evacuated the airport and the barracks at the UN's request and denied these were 'captured'. 'We are not defeated . . . We are not despairing,' he said.

Despite their latest strategic gains, the rebels joined the government side in agreeing a truce from 8am today to allow a planned visit by a special UN envoy to go ahead. Iqbal Riza, deputy head of UN peace-keeping, is in Kabale, Uganda, ready to enter Rwanda.