After a week of frustrated attempts to get refugees out of harm's way, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Rwanda had some success Saturday.
Four U.N. convoys safely shipped more than 700 fearful refugees out of rebel-besieged Kigali, whose guns had fallen unusually silent to accommodate the mission. There wasn't a total cease-fire but enough of a letup in shelling and gunfire to get the job done.Once delivered to sanctuary east and west of the capital, the refugees piled out of the white buses, minivans and four-ton trucks, embraced in reunion with loved ones and thanked the United Nations for their lives.
It was a far cry from U.N. experience the rest of the week, when operations were repeatedly canceled or turned back by uncooperative gunmen from both sides in Rwanda's civil war.
With little progress evident in stopping the fighting, France vowed to intervene within days in the Rwandan conflict, even if it cannot find Western partners.
"Every hour counts," declared President Francois Mitterrand. "It's a matter of days and hours," Mitterrand said Saturday during a UNESCO conference on development. "Two or three African countries have responded positively. I'm still waiting for firm responses from European countries. But whatever the case, we will do it. Every hour counts."
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Senegal had agreed to contribute some soldiers to the mission, which he said would require 1,000 to 2,000 soldiers.
The intervention would be "a humanitarian operation . . . under the flag and with the support of the United Nations," Juppe said.
Tears of joy were everywhere as the first U.N. convoy from government-controlled central Kigali arrived in rebel-held Kabuga, a few miles east.
"Without UNAMIR I am a dead man now," said former refugee Emmanuel Musyoma, 23, relieved that his family - six brothers, two sisters and their mother - is safe and his war over.
Like many Rwandans, the Musyomas were trapped when civil war re-erupted in the rugged Central African country. An estimated 200,000 people have died in nine weeks of fighting, most of them members of the Tutsi tribal minority slain by government-trained militias from Rwanda's Hutu majority.
Those militias had put the Musyomas on their death list. But they were able to bribe their way out of the pogrom that was about to sweep through Nyamirambo, Kigali's southwest suburb, where the militias slaughtered Tutsis two weeks ago as the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels advanced.
"We know we will be killed if we stay. So I give the government soldiers $600, all our money, and then they steal everything in our home. But they take us out of there in a car, so it was worth it," Emmanuel Musyoma said.