Rwanda factions talking to UN

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NAIROBI - Rwanda's warring sides conducted delicate negotiations yesterday with the United Nations over UN plans to take control of Kigali airport, which will be the staging point for 5,500 UN troops.

UN officials want rebel and government troops to withdraw all weapons at least two kilometres from the airport. That would force the army to abandon its heavily-defended Kanombe camp and force the rebels to give up strategic positions. Abdul Kabia, the UN spokesman in Kigali, said both sides had agreed to give the UN control of the airport and were negotiating about ways to withdraw weapons outside the perimeter.

Co-operation from both sides is a key element in the UN plan to reinforce its peace-keeping force with 5,500 new troops and to set up safe areas for civilians.

The Security Council authorised the new force for Rwanda on Tuesday but Mr Kabia said it was not yet known when the first troops would arrive. He said: 'We had estimated one week from the passing of the resolution we would have the first contingent, which would bring the battalion at the airport up to strength. As of now, we do not have assurances that will take place.'

The Security Council authorised the all-African force from Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe to use force to protect civilians and relief workers in areas where humanitarian aid is provided. But the soldiers will not be allowed to use force to stop the fighting or to prevent massacres in areas outside their control.