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Hutus urged to take up arms as fighting rages: Aid workers estimate more than 200,000 dead, many hacked to death as tribal massacres continue in Rwanda

Kigali - The worst battles in a month of war and tribal slaughter battered Rwanda's capital yesterday, but Tanzania said government troops and forces of the rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) had agreed separately to stop fighting from tomorrow.

Radio Tanzania quoted the Foreign Minister, Joseph Rwegasira, as saying a Rwandan government delegation to three days of talks in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha signed a peace proposal tabled by him. It said the agreement was to stop the fighting in Rwanda and the government representatives pledged to 'end the massacres'.

'The Rwanda Patriotic Front refused to sign it but they were ready to stop fighting as proposed,' the radio said.

Shells, mortar bombs and rockets battered Rwanda's capital yesterday, when a rebel offensive unleashed the worst fighting in a month of war and tribal mass slaughter. The beleaguered government declared a state of mass mobilisation, calling on all Rwandans to take up arms, return to their homes and fight the rebels instead of running away.

Attacks by the RPF from 7pm on Wednesday involved bombardments of Kigali city centre and street-to-street fighting, United Nations officers and witnesses said. Six RPF Katyusha rockets slammed into the government-held commercial centre of the capital, sending hundreds of people fleeing for their lives at an open air market, witnesses said. The RPF thrust to Kigali from the north erupted in the wake of the killing of President Juvenal Habyarimana in a rocket attack on his plane on 6 April.

Aid workers estimate more than 200,000 people have died, many hacked to death in massacres of the minority Tutsi tribe and opposition members by the majority Hutu. In a speech broadcast on Rwandan radio, the Prime Minister, Jean Kambanda, who heads a self-declared Hutu government, said every Rwandan should be armed, and urged hundreds of thousands of people who had fled to return to join the battles.

'We have men, munitions, a united government, a united army and we have to win,' he said. 'Weapons are the main priority for the government even if this prevents the importation of goods.' The government controls barely a third of the tiny central African state.

Abdul Kabia, executive head of the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), said heavy fighting with small arms, mortars and artillery raged across Kigali overnight and yesterday.

'They are the heaviest battles since this all started and the first time both sides have battled throughout the night,' said Mr Kabia, adding casualty figures were impossible to obtain.

UNAMIR commanders negotiated with Rwandan army chiefs to allow the evacuation of 300 civilians from the Hotel des Mille Collines, threatened with death by troops and Hutu militiamen.

Seven civilians were slashed by machetes and badly wounded on Tuesday, when a mob including militiamen forced back their UN convoy to Kigali airport.

Residents said the slaughter of Tutsis was declining in Kigali and the rest of Rwanda because none could be found alive.

Witnesses say people are killed by mobs on the basis of their identity cards showing if they are Tutsi. Civilians who do not have identification are assumed to be Tutsi and are also killed.

The residents said parts of Kigali, which had 200,000 people before fighting broke out, were ghost towns, with only weeks-old bodies lying on the streets and the stench of death in the air.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced yesterday a dollars 38.5m ( pounds 25m) appeal to help around a quarter of a million Rwandans who fled into Tanzania last week. In a statement from its Geneva headquarters, the UNHCR said aid workers were battling torrential rains and sanitation problems to help the refugees, half of whom are children.

(Photograph omitted)