The mandate from the Security Council gives the French forces approval to use all necessary means to provide security and humanitarian aid for the hundreds of thousands of refugees from the fighting between the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsis. UN officials estimate that between 200,000 and 500,000 have been killed since fighting started in April.
The French forces are expected to carry out a two-pronged action, bringing aid to Hutu refugees in northwestern Rwanda and Tutsis in the south-west. A total of 2,500 French troops are due to take part in the operation.
The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels made a push yesterday to capture the centre of the capital, Kigali, before the French arrive. UN observers patrolling north of the city reported seeing dozens of trucks travelling down the main road south from Byumba packed with RPF fighters. Intense firefights were heard north, south and east of the government-held town centre.
According to reports from Kigali, the rebel onslaught overnight sounded awesome, with long bursts of machine-gun fire supported by mortar and artillery barrages under a nearly full moon.
Shells fired from a nearby government stronghold hit one of the rebels' front-line mortar trenches in eastern Kigali, killing and wounding many rebels. The rebel shells landed within 100 yards of UN personnel, journalists and refugees based in the nearly abandoned Meridien Hotel. UN observers believe that despite their clear military success in taking much of Rwanda, the rebels face a severe challenge in capturing the centre of the capital.
'Everyone in the middle of Kigali is armed to the teeth,' said a UN officer from Zimbabwe who patrolled the government-held sector until a few days ago. 'They had little to motivate them before. They could always retreat. In Kigali there is no retreat. This is a fight for survival.'
Earlier, the UN evacuated more than 40 French-speaking African peace-keepers. 'Indications lead us to believe they were no longer welcome on the rebel side,' said a UN spokesman, Major Jean-Guy Plante.
The RPF, which is winning the civil war, deeply distrusts France after its previous support for the government of the murdered Hutu President, Juvenal Habyarimana. It says its fighters will resist any French intervention.
'We have fought them before, and can do so again. We will capture their modern arms and use them against them,' said Lieutenant 'Tony', an RPF spokesman. The RPF says France fought alongside Habyarimana's army during a rebel drive to the capital in 1990, but will not deny them victory a second time.
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