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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rwanda Inches Toward Cease-Fire

KIGALI, Rwanda -- Rwanda's government and military pledged their backing Wednesday for a UN-brokered cease-fire as a first step toward ending mass bloodshed in the central African country. UN envoy Iqbal Riza termed the government position, given to him in talks with the self-appointed prime minister Jean Kambanda, as good progress. But he conceded it would amount to nothing if rebels besieging the capital Kigali opposed a truce. "We have had very useful talks. We have agreed that the first step is towards a cease-fire," he told reporters after two hours of talks with Kambanda. "We are working on a document which has elements of a cease-fire," Riza added. He declined to give details. Riza and UN military adviser General Joseph Maurice Baril met Kambanda in Gitarama, to where the interim government retreated after violence gripped the capital following the killing of Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6. An estimated half a million people, mainly members of the Tutsi minority and Hutu opponents of the government, have since been slaughtered in massacres blamed on Hutu militia and government troops. More than a million people have also been made homeless by the killings and civil war that followed a rocket attack on Habyarimana's plane in which the president of neighboring Burundi was also killed. After talks with the prime minister, Riza was driven back to Kigali where he held a second meeting with army chief of staff General Augustine Bizimungu, whom he first met Tuesday. Bizimungu told reporters: "We are moving toward a cease-fire and we hope the other side moves towards the same position." Speaking in French through a UN interpreter, he added: "There is always the beginning of war and an end to it. I am now looking forward to the end of the war." The rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front, dominated by the minority Tutsi, has been fighting the majority-Hutu leadership since 1990. Riza heads back to rebel headquarters close to the Uganda border on Thursday to deliver the government position. Details of a cease-fire will also be on the table, but Riza made clear a truce depended on rebels who seem bent on a military victory. "We are now down to operational details," he said, but added: "We have to wait until I meet the other side" The 20-vehicle UN convoy, including an armored troop carrier with Riza aboard, passed a column of terrified people fleeing a relentless rebel siege on Kigali. Intermittent firing could be heard in the city but it was much less intense than just before and shortly after Riza flew in on Tuesday. A truce agreed by warring factions and later prolonged during his visit appeared to be generally holding. Estimated to number 50,000, those fleeing moved south in the column stretching almost the entire 40-kilometers of the Kigali-Gatarama road. Many were weighed down by personal belongings, mattresses and cooking pots, others walking infants as little as a year old. Several government soldiers also headed south in buses and cars. Many uniformed soldiers also trekked, apparently as frightened of the advancing rebels as the civilians. Riza, the deputy head of UN peacekeeping operations, is on a mission to win government and rebel approval to clear the way for 5,500 UN peacekeepers to move into Rwanda. Ghana, Ethiopia and Senegal have committed troops but the United Nations is falling far short of the 5,500 peacekeepers it wants. Earlier Wednesday, shells hit an International Committee of the Red Cross hospital compound in Kigali, killing two Rwandan staff, UN officers said.