First French commandos protect Tutsi refugees

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The Independent Online
NYARUSHISHI - French commandos took up positions around a Tutsi refugee camp yesterday while more soldiers fanned into western Rwanda seeking other refugees to protect from ethnic slaughter that has horrified the world.

Overnight, the rebels pressed heavy attacks inside Kigali, the capital. The Red Cross hospital in central Kigali was reported hit by a mortar shell yesterday during sporadic fighting, killing seven patients.

About 10,000 dancing and chanting people marched through rebel-controlled parts of Kigali yesterday to protest against the French operation. They carried banners reading 'No to French imperialism', 'We thank RPF' and 'Let them (the French) go]' The rebels suspect France wants to prop up the Rwandan government.

'We have no doubt whatsoever that their intentions are far from being humanitarian,' Theogene Rudasingwa, secretary-general of the Patriotic Front, told journalists in Paris on Thursday.

Some 60 miles (100 kilometers) west of Kigali, 250 commandos arrived at the huge refugee camp at Nyarushishi after crossing the border from Zaire on Thursday into south-western Rwanda, which is still controlled by the government. Hoping to allay the suspicion of the rebels, France made its initial target for protection the vulnerable pocket of Tutsi refugees in the region around Cyangugu, about 10 miles (16km) east of Nyarushishi. 'There are 8,000 people here, all Tutsis. We're here to protect them,' said Colonel Didier Thibaut, commander of the commando unit. 'When we arrived they were a little afraid. Some people said we came to kill them.'

The Tutsis were wary of the French soldiers, but most still welcomed them because Rwandan police have not protected them from fanatical Hutu militias that have murdered tens of thousands of Tutsis since April.

Colonel Thibaut said more French troops moved into other parts of western Rwanda yesterday to search for refugees. French commanders were considering forays as far east as the strategic government-held towns of Butare and Ruhengeri, which the rebels have been trying to seize.

In Kigali overnight, there was heavy rebel fire at Camp Kimihurura, the base of the presidential guard and artillery units in the eastern part of the city. Rebels also attacked government positions to the north.