Tutsi insurgents poised to seize Rwandan capital

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The Independent Online
KIGALI - Tutsi rebels fought their way into the Rwandan capital yesterday, sending the government, foreigners and thousands of residents fleeing in fear of a new wave of tribal bloodletting.

Intense fighting rocked several parts of the city. The Hutu-dominated interim government fled its headquarters in the Hotel des Diplomates in the city centre 'for a more secure place', a Rwandan soldier in the hotel said. Unconfirmed reports said the week-old government had moved to the town of Gitarama, south-west of the city.

As the rebels closed, residents emerged from hiding and tried to escape an expected wave of revenge killings by the Tutsi forces. 'It's going to be carnage,' predicted a Nairobi-based Rwandan diplomat.

The last foreign residents seeking to leave the city were escorted to the airport by French and Belgian paratroopers. France, Russia, Germany and the United States said they had evacuated virtually all their nationals from Kigali.

In Kampala, Christine Umutoni, spokeswoman for the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), said its forces had entered Kigali and were about to join a battalion of 600 fellow rebels camped outside the city under a UN-sponsored peace plan approved by the government and the rebels in August. She said RPF forces were awaiting instructions to seize the capital, where she said 'government forces had dispersed, many of them surrendering with their arms to the RPF'. The rebels' entry into the city was later confirmed by the UN in New York.

The RPF has around 20,000 soldiers, against an estimated 30,000 government troops. RPF radio said advancing rebel forces had signed an agreement with UN officials yesterday guaranteeing the evacuation of foreign nationals. But the rebels warned that 'any foreign troops who were not part of the UN mission have 12 hours to leave the country at the end of evacuation operations'.

UN commanders were present in Rwanda to enforce the peace accord. They were joined by troops from France and Belgium sent in to oversee the evacuation of foreign nationals after fighting broke out. The French troops were due to leave the country after the last French citizens were evacuated yesterday.

The latest fighting erupted after the country's Hutu president, Juvenal Habyarimana, was killed when his plane crashed here on 6 April, reportedly hit by a rocket. His death sparked an orgy of killing, mostly of minority Tutsis by the majority Hutus. More than 10,000 people have been killed in the capital alone, according to relief workers.

(Photograph omitted)