Hutu soldiers repulsed after invading Rwanda

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Kigali - Exiled soldiers loyal to Rwanda's former government staged their first big cross-border attack from Zaire yesterday in what United Nations peace-keepers feared could signal the start of an insurgency.

The UN military spokesman, Captain Stephane Grenier, said about 50 Hutu troops were driven back into Zaire after a two-hour gun-battle with government forces. Up to six Rwandan fishermen were missing after the attack at Nyamasheke village on the shores of Lake Kivu in the south-west.

The commander of the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda, Major-General Guy Tousignant, said the attack could be the start of a "consolidated and well-planned insurgency campaign" by exiled Hutu troops.

Shaharyar Khan, the UN special envoy to Rwanda, said he expected the attacks to increase."This is part of a low-grade insurrection as the former government attempts to destabilise the country," he said. "We expect more attacks. Consequently we are very anxious to have proper policing of the lake through high-speed boats."

The government spokesman, Major Wilson Rutayisire, described the exiled troops as mere thugs. "We do not worry because these thugs have no cause, they have nothing to give the refugees in Goma and Bukavu," he said.

Up to 40,000 troops and militiamen fled to Zaire when the predominantly Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) army won a four-year war. The former government army and its leaders are accused of slaughtering up to a million Tutsis and Hutu moderates between April and July last year.

Relief agencies say they are terrorising refugees in camps in Tanzania and Zaire to prevent them from returning home.

Aid agencies say the troops have been training in sprawling refugee camps in the eastern Zairean towns of Goma and Bukavu on the other side of Lake Kivu. Zaire denies they are using its territory to prepare for invasion - a stand it reiterated last Saturday in Kenya at a summit of African heads of state to discuss the crisis.

The presidents of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, and Zaire's prime minister, agreed that suspected perpetrators of last year's genocide must be separated from innocent refugees in camps in Zaire and Tanzania. Analysts say full backing from Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko, who missed the meeting, is needed to bring the camps in Zaire under control.