France rejects role as Rwanda 'buffer force'

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The Independent Online
THE FRENCH Defence Minister, Francois Leotard, said in Rwanda yesterday that French troops would not become a 'buffer force' to try to stop fighting between the remnant of the Rwandan government and rebel forces. But a statement by the Rwandan embassy in Paris in the name of the interim government called on France to expand its operation into rebel- controlled areas.

In a clear attempt to exploit the French presence and drag France deeper into Rwanda on the side of the former government, the statement called on the international community 'to to do all it can, as soon as possible, to impose on the RPF-held zones the same controls that Operation Turquoise now imposes on government-held areas.'

Mr Leotard, on a visit to French troops in Rwanda, said that France must not substitute itself for the Rwandans; the French aim was to hand over to the United Nations as soon as possible. Visiting a refugee camp, he said the answer to Rwanda's problems was a UN mission. 'It cannot only be French,' he said. Appearing to rule out the a territorial division of Rwanda, he said it must remain 'a multi-ethnic country . . . and the only solution is political . . . despite the genocide.'

A week after the French embarked on their venture to Rwanda, their troops have not yet fired a shot or apparently been shot at. They now have about 1,400 troops and 300 vehicles that have crossed into Rwanda from Zaire.

Despite fears that the French initiative might lead to a Somalia- style intervention, the operation so far has been limited to the fringe of Rwanda. The French troops are still a long way from the front line of the fighting, so they have had no opportunity for contact with the rebel Rwandese Patriotic Front, which has denounced the French presence.

But General Jean-Claude Lafourcade, commander of the operation, said earlier this week that the UN mandated France to put an end to the massacres by using force if necessary. 'My mandate does not require me to go to Kigali,' he added.

At present the French are protecting refugee camps, rescuing foreign clergy marooned further inside the country and sending out patrols. However, the RPF remains deeply suspicious of the French intervention and many now suspect that the French government believes the RPF is ready to take over the country by force. If it has troops on the ground, France believes it can pull together the remnant of the old Hutu government and create a political unit with sufficient credibility to negotiate with the RPF. France would emerge as the sponsor of a peace agreement.

Initially, however, the French intervention has interrupted the UN operation in Kigali because the RPF has broken off negotiations with the UN commander there. Yesterday the RPF started shooting during a ceasefire in Kigali that was arranged to allow food to be delivered to 1,500 Tutsis sheltering at Sainte Famille Church in central Kigali. The unloading operation was stopped when the RPF opened fire.

For the first time in three weeks the UN managed to get some food through to the Tutsis, trapped in the church complex on the government side. The area is surrounded by Hutu militias carrying guns and machetes who will not allow any Tutsis to leave.

Eyewitnesses said the refugees wept when they heard they were not being evacuated. When told that the UN had only brought food, one woman said: 'We have to go. They come in every day and look around. They will come to take the men away and kill them.'