Rebels Resume Push For Capital in Heavy Fighting
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Rebels stepped up their push for the Rwandan capital today, pounding government positions near the airport and on the eastern side of Kigali with an intense barrage of heavy artillery and mortar fire.
One round exploded on the tarmac, forcing U.N. officials to turn back a relief flight en route from Nairobi and close the airport, said U.N. spokesman Abdul Kabia in Kigali.
Intense fighting also was reported near Ruhengeri in the northwest where U.N. officials say the rebels are advancing despite stiff resistance from government forces.
Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame, chairman of the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front, said earlier that the lull in fighting around Kigali was to give the rebels time to consolidate their positions near Ruhengeri, about 45 miles from Kigali.
Rebels also were driving on Bugesera and Kanzanze, about 15 miles southwest of Kigali.
The fighting between the majority Hutu, who dominate the army and the government, and the minority Tutsis, who lead the rebel movement, began after the president died in a plane crash in Kigali on April 6. The president of neighboring Burundi also died in the crash. Both men were Hutus.
In the past month, some 100,000 to 200,000 people have been killed, and 1.3 million have fled their homes, according to the United Nations and aid agencies. About 300,000 have fled to four neighboring countries.
Rebel guns this morning shattered the eerie calm that had descended on the capital Sunday after five days of intense fighting that saw the rebels make substantial gains in Kigali.
″They are using very, very heavy artillery,″ said Kabia. ″The blasts shake all the buildings around where they hit.″
Besides closing the airport, the shelling also has disrupted the delivery of food to thousands of displaced people under U.N. protection in the capital.
Kabia said the rebels contend that ethnic massacres of Tutsi civilians are continuing in the countryside in parts of southern Rwanda still controlled by the government. However, he said, U.N. observers cannot get access to the areas and cannot confirm the reports.
Massacres have been carried out in areas controlled by the army and marauding militias allied with Hutu political parties. Most of the victims have been Tutsis.
Hundreds of corpses of people slain in Rwanda have been floating down the Akagera River and washing up on the shores of Lake Victoria in southern Uganda, about 100 miles from Kigali, raising the risk of a cholera outbreak.
World Vision announced a $67,000 program Sunday to try to prevent an outbreak of the intestinal disease among people who depend on the river and lake for their drinking water.
The U.S.-based aid agency plans to vaccinate 20,000 people in Uganda’s Rakai district, provide protective clothing for local people collecting the corpses and hire boats to retrieve the corpses.
The corpses floating down the Akagera River also are a hazard for thousands of Rwandan refugees fleeing into northern Tanzania. The river forms the border between the two countries, and relief workers say some refugees are swimming across.
Rebel radio broadcasts contended some of the about 250,000 refugees who fled to Tanzania have begun to return, most in search of food.
Kabia said a few hundred have returned to find food, but that most of them were returning to Tanzania. Hundreds of other mostly Hutu refugees are still trekking through the surrounding mountains to avoid rebel patrols and crossing the river to reach the Benaco refugee camp in Tanzania, which is now the largest in the world.