Plea by besieged UN force as war rages in Rwanda

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NAIROBI (Reuter) - A small beleaguered force of United Nations peace-keepers appealed yesterday for reinforcements to stop them being trapped in Rwanda's carnage.

They sent out a desperate message as battles between army troops and rebels hit their most vicious level in a month of bloodletting, in which up to 200,000 people have perished. Gangs of tribal backers of the Hutu-dominated army have kept up their slaughter of civilians. As mortar bombs hit the airport in the capital, Kigali, wounding another UN soldier, officers said they were worried a mysterious 'third force' was intent on driving them out.

'We protested to government forces and the rebels about the airport shelling but both deny being responsible, which raises the possibility of a third force,' an officer said. The UN soldier wounded yesterday was evacuated to Kenya with two out of three injured in a bombardment on Tuesday. The airport on Kigali's eastern edge is the only reliable link to the outside world for the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda (Unamir).

Government troops based there refuse to leave it under UN control. The UN Security Council slashed Unamir's strength from 2,500 to a bare minimum of 270 shortly after renewed civil war and massacres broke out, following the killing of the president, Juvenal Habyarimana, in a rocket attack on his plane on 6 April.

Aid workers said battles since Tuesday were the worst in nearly a month of fighting, which touched off a flood of more than 300,000 refugees. Seven Rwandan civilians including at least one woman were seriously wounded in a machete attack on Tuesday when troops, pro-government militiamen and a mob of hundreds stopped a UN convoy trying to evacuate 62 civilians to Kigali airport, and forced it back.

A Unamir official said the peace-keepers urgently needed to be reinforced to at least give humanitarian aid to civilians. 'Gangs are roaming around attacking people with machetes . . . 10-year-old children holding grenades and with rifles slung on their shoulders threatening to blow our vehicles away.'