Heavy fighting in Rwanda as Hutu army counter-attacks

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The Independent Online
FORCES loyal to the remnant of government in Rwanda yesterday counter-attacked the rebel movement, slowing its advance and casting doubt over its ability to take Kigali, the capital. Meanwhile recent reports suggest that the massacres of Tutsis behind government lines are continuing.

The government counter-offensive is aimed at pushing the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front eastwards and keeping open the main road that runs down the middle of the country. The rebels have captured several towns on this road.

The main RPF advance has been in the south, and aims to cut off the Hutu-dominated government in Gitarama, a town south of Kigali, where it has taken refuge. There has been heavy fighting around Gitarama since the rebels took Kabgayi nearby last week.

Major Jean-Guy Plante, a military spokesman for the 450-man United Nations force in Rwanda, said: 'It is a major counter-attack. They (government forces) want to push back the whole of the RPF forces to the west of the Kigali- Butare road.'

Major Plante also said UN flights to Kigali were cancelled until Friday after mortar bombs fired by government forces landed near an aircraft as it tried to land on Sunday. The attack was interpreted by UN officers as a show of strength to prove the government forces were not yet defeated. Major Plante said the UN hoped to organise a land convoy from Uganda with fuel and other supplies.

Heavy fighting is also reported north of Kigali where the RPF is trying to outflank government forces by going through the forests home to the world-famous mountain gorillas.

The RPF has captured more than half the country since April when it broke out of the UN-monitored enclave in the north that it has controlled since 1990. After the shooting down of President Juvenal Habyarimana's aircraft on 6 April, tens of thousands of Tutsis were butchered by gangs of extremist Hutus.

In Pretoria Andre Ntagerura, a Rwandan Minister, blamed the RPF for the massacres and accused Uganda of supplying the movement with troops and weapons. He called on President Nelson Mandela to intervene.

The overwhelming evidence is that government-armed and supported militias are carrying out most massacres, but Uganda's role in the conflict is unclear. Most RPF officers grew up in exile in Uganda and fought for President Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Army. They say President Museveni knew nothing of their plans. Mr Museveni asked for UN troops to patrol the border to prove that Uganda was not helping the RPF, but the UN team is forbidden to approach the main road between Uganda and Rwanda.

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