Rebels broke through government lines early Friday, rescued about 600 refugees in central Kigali and shot their way out again. U.N. officials said at least 40 people were killed in the raid.
"It was a daring, successful operation - a real hit-and-run through the government lines," said U.N. military spokesman Maj. Jean-Guy Plante.But the raid brought immediate retaliation from government-trained Hutu militias that have been targeting members of the minority Tutsi ethnic group. The Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels are led by Tutsis.
The militias invaded the Milles Collines Hotel in central Kigali, which had provided sanctuary for U.N. observers and about 600 refugees, and fired shots.
"They are looking for Tutsis. Our observers are still there, but right now they are trying to protect their own lives," said Plante, who was unsure whether anyone had been abducted from the hotel.
He said Maj. Gen. Augustin Bizimungu, chief of staff of the beleaguered government forces, had arrived at the hotel to try to persuade the militias to withdraw.
The 450-member U.N. force, meanwhile, was confined to barracks after a U.N. truck carrying two officers was apparently ambushed outside Shyorona village, about 13 miles northwest of the capital. An Uruguayan major was killed and his Bangladeshi comrade wounded when the truck was blown apart by a mine, rocket or other device, Plante said.
The rebels struck around 3 a.m., apparently launching the raid from its nearby northern stronghold of Gisozi. Rebels used heavy artillery and mortar fire to keep government forces pinned down as they infiltrated the Ste. Paul and Ste. Famille refugee camps, said Gen. Romeo Dallaire, commander of the U.N. force in Rwanda.
The U.N. said at least 40 people were killed and 40 wounded, most-ly by heavy rebel mortar fire in support of the raid. A platoon-sized rebel unit escorted about 600 civilians through government-held territory, and planned to walk them to rebel-held territory, U.N. officials said.
The Red Cross hospital in Kigali, which is operating without blood supplies, reported an influx of more than 200 casualties overnight, many of them refugees wounded in the rebels' shelling. Many were children or women, and most had suffered shrapnel wounds from mortar shells.
The Red Cross had four doctors available, and 80 patients had to remain outside on tarpaulins. Bodies of the dead were thrown into a tent beside the hospital.
More than 3,000 mostly Tutsi refugees have been huddled around the two Roman Catholic churches in central Kigali for weeks. They have proved easy prey for the Hutu militias, responsible for many of the estimated 200,000 deaths in the civil war.