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French troops in Rwanda to assist civilians threatened by tribal massacres and civil war Saturday visited two refugee camps sheltering members of the majority Hutu tribe, the ethnic group blamed for most of the killing that has ravaged the Central African nation.

About 40 lightly armed French reconnaissance troops in jeeps, accompanied by a truckload of Senegalese troops, visited the Hutu refugee camps in Rwandan government-held territory near the border with Zaire. The French army vehicles were garlanded with flowers by cheering Hutus in an embarrassing reminder of France's long, supportive relationship with the Hutu-dominated government.Brig. Gen. Jean-Claude Lafourcade, commander of the French intervention mission code-named Operation Turquoise, stressed that his troops were determined to be diplomatic and evenhanded - assisting Hutus as well the minority Tutsis whose tribe has predominated among the victims of 10 weeks of bloodshed.

"We are not going to frighten them with any warlike actions," Lafourcade said of both sides.

"Our protection is our presence," he told reporters at his headquarters in this Zaire border town within hours of arriving to take up his command. Lafourcade indicated that the Hutu refugees his troops visited apparently were not in danger.

The visit to the 400 Hutu refugees in Kamama and 100 in Manyumba - as well as courtesy calls on Rwandan government officials in Gisenyi two miles east of the border - came three days after the initial French deployment farther south. In that first foray, French troops on Thursday reassured 8,000 Tutsi refugees at Nyarushishi, a tea plantation near Cyangugu, and sought to establish their credibility in Rwanda.

The presence of Senegalese troops in the intervention force was important for France, which is eager to show that Operation Turquoise is not an exclusively French operation.

Only Senegal, France's oldest former African colony, has agreed to do more than provide logistical help for Operation Turquoise.

Another 300 Senegalese troops are expected to arrive here within days, the general said.

Under President Francois Mitterrand, France in recent years became the mainstay of Rwanda's Hutu-led military regime. France provided arms and training for its army and stationed troops in the country.