French warning as Kigali falls to Rwanda rebels

KIGALI - Jubilant rebels yesterday captured Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, and the last large government-held southern town of Butare, but in what appeared a radical policy shift, French troops were ordered to halt any advance.

Witnesses said forces of the rebel Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) pushed into central Kigali shortly after daybreak following two days of intense artillery bombardment. Hundreds of dispirited government soldiers, fleeing the rebel advance, tramped up the Central African city's mist- shrouded hills to escape southwards through the one exit not sealed by RPF fighters.

'I am so happy, for so long I have dreamed of walking through the streets of Kigali,' said Colonel Frank Mugambe, the RPF commander, as he escorted journalists around abandoned government positions. He said there was little fighting as the rebels moved into the city centre in their first big push in several weeks of fighting. 'The government appears to have withdrawn from all strategic sites in the city centre. There are still pockets of resistance, but those we are now dealing with,' he added.

Columns of rebel soldiers wound their way through the sandy lanes to take up positions. Tired and wet after more than three months of hard fighting, they waved and smiled at journalists.

Many residents appeared to be keeping off the streets, but at the Sainte Famille religious complex, a death camp for 2,000 refugees threatened by extremist militia of the Hutu tribe, there was jubilation. Rebel soldiers, mostly from the minority Tutsi tribe, embraced relatives and friends long given up for dead. 'Early yesterday the Interhamwe militia walked away and then nothing happened. I knew it was the end,' said a Tutsi student, Lin Niyonzima.

Only hours after securing control of Kigali, RPF forces to the south stormed into the last large government-held southern town of Butare and threatened to move deeper into the heartland of the government-backed Hutus. 'They have taken Butare. The information we have is it fell at 1200 local time (1000 GMT),' said a French officer at the main French base in Goma, Zaire, for Operation Turquoise.

But he added that RPF forces had not yet reached Gikongoro, where French troops were ordered yesterday to halt the rebel advance on the government's enclave in the west of Rwanda.

Colonel Didier Thibaut, based in Gikongoro, 20km (12 miles) from the battle front, said Colonel Jacques Rosier, commander of Operation Turquoise's southern command, had ordered him to stop the rebels from capturing the town or going beyond it. The order marks a radical shift in France's policy towards the RPF and puts Operation Turquoise on a new offensive footing just as rebel forces are turning against the West.

Paris insists that it is leading a purely humanitarian mission and has avoided whenever possible any confrontation with the rebels.

Colonel Thibaut said the decision took effect immediately. He added that the French would fly in reinforcements to boost their 100- man presence in Gikongoro, the next town on the road leading west. 'No one will go any further . . . ours remains a humanitarian mission, in the security sense of the word,' he said.

The RPF has always accused the French of intervening in Rwanda to help government forces, which were trained and armed by the French in the past. 'If the RPF comes here and threatens the population, we will fire on them without any hesitation,' Colonel Thibaut said. 'We have the means and we will soon have more. It's true that there are 2,000 of them, but you saw how powerful our firepower was,' he added, referring to a clash on Sunday.

Later, the commander of French forces in Rwanda vowed that his troops would fight armed infiltration of areas under their control but insisted France was staying neutral. Brigadier-General Jean-Claude Lafourcade gave the pledge in a statement he said was being made to avoid any misunderstanding about the humanitarian mission he directed. He said: 'We will oppose any infiltration of armed elements into areas under our responsibility. Our neutrality, however, will remain the rule to be applied and we have abided by it since we intervened. We will stick to it.'

French troops established a position 10km east of Gikongoro, drawing a line which they said the RPF must not cross. Outside Gikongoro they set up an anti- tank launcher and helicopters flew in supplies throughout yesterday afternoon.

(Photograph and map omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvSpoiler alert: It has been talked about for months
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - West Midlands - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - Yorkshire & Humber - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Embedded Linux Engineer - C / C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A well funded smart home compan...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - Python / Node / C / Go

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: *Flexible working in a relaxed ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?