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Kigali pins hopes on safe-cracker

KIGALI - He is perhaps the most awaited safe- cracker in the history of Africa. All of Rwanda is anticipating the arrival of the French technician who they hope will be able to break into the country's central bank.

When Rwanda's former Hutu extremist government was driven from power in July by the Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), it fled to Zaire with bank notes, accounting records and - most important - the secret codes to a complicated series of locks on the bank vault. 'But it seems they didn't take all the money,' said the bank governor, Gerard Niyitegeka. 'I'm not certain, but I'm optimistic.'

The funds inside the central bank vault are needed by local banks to finance a resumption in their daily operations that were interrupted by fighting that tore the country apart from April to July.

'We've located the duplicates for the keys, but we still don't have the secret combinations,' Mr Niyitegeka said.

An appeal was made to the French company that installed the locks in 1982.

'We could have dynamited the door open, but it's that thick,' explained the governor, spreading his arms apart. 'The entire building would be destroyed.'

Even if all goes well, and the door is opened and a treasure discovered inside, Rwanda will still be long way from financial health. 'We will need a lot more money, which we have asked of friendly countries and international financial institutions,' Mr Niyitegeka said.

Despite its locked vault, the central bank has been functioning, relying on customs duties and other levies to pay civil servants. But Rwandan soldiers are still waiting for their salaries, according to the governor.