Paris troops' mission 'to last two months'

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The Independent Online
THE FIRST French troops entered Rwanda from Zaire yesterday on an ambitious mission to end two months of massacres, an operation fraught with danger.

While some 1,000 of the 2,500- strong French force have been earmarked for operations inside Rwanda, they will not set up bases there. Rwandan rebels said they would treat the French as enemies.

A first contingent of 600 French troops arrived earlier in the day in Goma and Bukavu in Zaire from their base in the Central African Republic. The last of the 2,500 are expected to be in place tomorrow.

Their mission is to protect some 8,000 Tutsis in the Cyangugu region threatened by the main Hutu goverment forces. Last night French units entered the region and moved into one of the Tutsi refugee camps. But the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which opposes the French mission, warned again yesterday that its men would fight the French soldiers.

Jacques Bihozagara, the front's representative in Europe, said the RPF would treat the French as 'aggressors'. France, which has traditionally supported the Rwandan government, was going in 'for a so-called humanitarian action', he said. 'We think there are reasons other than humanitarian.'

Mr Bihozagara added: 'The regime which is massacring today has been helped, supported and armed by France. Now we think that France's action is aimed at prolonging its aid to this crumbling regime.'

Domestic cynicism about France's highly active African policy, which has led it to intervene a number of times since Charles de Gaulle founded the Fifth Republic 35 years ago - mainly to shore up friendly governments - was reflected in a front-page cartoon in Le Monde. The work of the newspaper's star cartoonist, Plantu, it showed French soldiers carrying medical kit into Rwanda. Nearby an African standing in a box of arms and ammunition fired an automatic weapon at other Africans. One of the French soldiers shouted to his comrades: 'The problem is that they're armed to the teeth.' On the munitions box were the words 'Made in France'.

The French government described the operation as 'limited', the politicians' favourite word at the start of any military campaign, and said it would last two months at the most.

Although the UN Security Council approved the French- inspired 'Operation Turquoise' with five abstentions on Wednesday, France has been disappointed by a lack of response from other countries to its call to make the force truly international.

Italy, with bad memories of the UN 'Restore Hope' mission in Somalia, said it would participate only if a 'supranational' command structure were set up. Belgium, the former colonial power in Rwanda which lost 10 men in the joint Franco-Belgian operation to evacuate foreigners from Kigali in April, said it would not join in although France has said Brussels will provide logistical support. Senegal, Ghana and Guinea were the only African countries to promise men, while the Organisation of African Unity condemned the operation.

The French force, led by Brigadier-General Jean-Claude Lafourcade of the 11th Paratroop Division, has four Jaguar strike aircraft for air support as well as a number of attack helicopters.

While Francois Leotard, France's Defence Minister, said part of the aim of the mission was to help aid agencies to carry on relief work more efficiently, some of the more vociferous opposition to the French initiative came from those same agencies. Medecins Sans Frontieres said the French presence in Rwanda could exacerbate and even extend the conflict.