Rebels Declare Cease-Fire Before Start Of Peace Talks
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Rwandan rebels declared a unilateral cease-fire in their blood-soaked homeland on Saturday, hours before peace talks were scheduled in neighboring Tanzania, a Tanzanian official and news reports said.
The rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front issued a statement saying the cease-fire would begin at midnight Monday, said a Tanzanian foreign ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He said the cease-fire was conditional on the government stopping all killings in areas under its control within four days. The official spoke by telephone from the northern Tanzania town of Arusha, where talks were to begin late Saturday.
Abdul Kabia, a U.N. spokesman in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, said he had been informed of the cease-fire by a Rwandan diplomat and was awaiting written confirmation.
Kabia, speaking by telephone, said there was no gunfire reported in Kigali all day Saturday but declined to ″draw any conclusions from that as things here change very quickly.″
An estimated 100,000 people have been killed in two weeks of bloodletting between the majority Hutus, who dominate the government and the military, and the minority Tutsis who form the bulk of the rebel force.
As many as 2 million people have fled their homes and thousands more are barricaded in buildings to escape the violence, which began a day after the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi died in a mysterious plane crash in Kigali on April 6.
In Brussels, Belgian radio quoted a rebel official as saying the decision to declare a cease-fire was taken in response to international pressure.
″The cease-fire should allow humanitarian aid to reach the tens of thousands of victims of the Rwandan conflict,″ the radio quoted the unidentified official as saying.
The Tanzanian official said the rebel statement was signed by rebel chairman Alex Kanyarangwe and released in Arusha.
Officials of the Rwandan government, the insurgents and the United Nations in Arusha were reported in closed-door consultations and unavailable for comment.
President Ali Hassan Mwinyi of Tanzania early this week invited the warring parties for talks to seek ways of ending the bloodbath.
Last August, the Rwandan government and the insurgents signed an agreement in Arusha on broad-based rule to end a three-year war but failed to implement the accord once back home.
Private aid agencies have repeatedly said they are ready to send food and medicine as soon as security improved and were angered by a U.N. decision Thursday to slash the number of peacekeepers to 270, down from a peak of 2,500.
To emphasize the urgent need for aid, Peter Hansen, the U.N. undersecretary for humanitarian assistance, led a team of eight officials to Kigali on Saturday to assess the situation.
Only a trickle of food and medicine has reached Kigali and hardly any has made it to the rest of the country during the fighting.
Most aid workers were evacuated shortly after the carnage began and only a handful, from the International Committee of the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, remain in Kigali.
A Red Cross convoy from neighboring Burundi reached Kigali on Friday with badly needed medicine and 20 more workers, including doctors and nurses.
Another Red Cross team arrived in the southwestern town of Cyangugu, where some 5,000 people have sought refuge in a stadium.