Rebels press for Kigali's fall before nations can intervene

June 20, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Heavy fighting erupted again yesterday in TC the Rwandan capital of Kigali as rebel guerrillas tried for a decisive victory before the possible intervention of foreign troops.

A U.N. spokesman said by phone that the dug-in government troops and the advancing Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels, who already control more than half the country, exchanged mortar, artillery and small-arms fire throughout much of the day. The continuing battles have turned Kigali into a virtual ghost town.

Yesterday's fighting came a day after French President Francois Mitterrand said that his country was prepared to send 2,000 troops to Rwanda on a humanitarian mission to stop the massacre of civilians. He said that they could arrive in Kigali in a matter of days and indicated that France was willing to go it alone if no other Western nations joined the force.

Thus far, France's promised involvement has not received widespread support. Italy apparently is the only other European nation considering sending troops, although several countries, including the United States and Belgium, the former colonial power in Rwanda, have said that they might provide logistic and transportation support.

The United Nations recently approved sending an additional 5,500 troops to Kigali to create "safe zones." Senegal, Zaire and Ethiopia have said that they would contribute to the force, whose mission would be to protect civilians but not intervene in the fighting between the Hutu-dominated army and the mostly Tutsi rebels.

Western diplomats in Nairobi fear that any U.N. effort could become bogged down like the U.N. humanitarian mission in Somalia.

Additionally, they say, the expedition could be particularly risky for France.

France once armed and trained the Rwandan military and is despised by the Hutus, who felt betrayed when France and Belgium ended their presence in Kigali in April. On the other hand, the Tutsi rebels see France as being sympathetic to the Hutus and have said that a French military presence is unacceptable. Uganda, the rebels' main supporter, has also voiced opposition.

But without outside intervention, it increasingly looks like Rwanda's 3-year-old civil war could drag on, as have wars in Angola and Liberia. Both sides have so far proved themselves unable to provide unity, security or protection for the Rwandan people.

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