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Rwanda foes agree to hold ceasefire talks next week

A UNITED NATIONS envoy said last night that both sides in the Rwanda civil war had agreed to meet on Monday to discussa ceasefire.

Having crossed the front line of the fighting to talk to both sides, Iqbal Riza, the UN's deputy head of peace- keeping, said: 'We had very, very useful discussions with General Kagame (military leader of the Rwanda Patriotic Front) and we agreed that the two military sides should meet in Kigali on Monday and work out a process towards a ceasefire.'

Mr Riza has spent all week shuttling between the government and the rebels. He had talks with the RPF chairman, Alexis Kanyarengwe, on Monday, with the army chief, General Augustine Bizimungu, on Tuesday, and with government leaders at their refuge at Gitarama, near Kigali, on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in Washington the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, criticised advocates of human rights yesterday for being 'strangely reluctant' to take action to halt the massacre in Rwanda.

In a speech at Johns Hopkins University, Mr Boutros- Ghali called for 'forceful action' to stop the killing in Rwanda, where tens of thousands of people have been slaughtered. He said the UN's priority was humanitarian relief. But he asked: 'What can be done to stop such massive slaughter inside a country's borders?'

There was scarcely a break in the fighting during Mr Riza's visit to Kigali yesterday. Despite agreement about a ceasefire during his visit, the rebels' artillery opened up as he left government-held parts of the city in a military convoy to visit the rebel headquarters at Byumba, 50 miles north. There he met Paul Kagame, the RPF's military leader, and as they talked, RPF fighters took the suburb of Kicukiro, near the airport, which the rebels seized four days ago. The RPF has laid siege to Gatenga, reported to be the base of the extremist Hutu militias that have been carrying out the killings.

All of which leads many observers and diplomats to be initially sceptical about the sincerity of the RPF in agreeing to a ceasefire. It is widely regarded as a breathing-space to allow their forces to regroup before continuing their advance. One UN official described the RPF demands as very tough. 'They are demanding a complete end to the government's ability to wage war,' he said.

However, it has always been their policy that it would meet the government's military chiefs to discuss how the massacres of civilians could be stopped. The RPF's policy is to take over as much of the country as quickly as possible to halt the massacres. It has refused to talk to the rump government, accusing it of being behind the killings, but has tried to divide the army from the government.

The government, on the other hand, is losing the military struggle and has agreed a UN plan for a ceasefire. There are few signs that the loyalty of the army to the interim government is slipping, and so far it has resisted any RPF offers of a separate peace.

But the conventional war has almost become a sub-plot to the massacres, and the question is whether an end to the fighting will mean an end to the killings.