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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rwandan Rebels Stage Daring Rescue

KIGALI, Rwanda -- Tutsi rebels broke through government lines early Friday, rescued about 600 refugees in central Kigali and shot their way back out. UN 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 UN military spokesman Major 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 militias invaded the Milles Collines Hotel in central Kigali, which had provided sanctuary for UN 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. He said Major General Augustin Bizimungu, chief of staff of government forces, had arrived at the hotel to try to persuade the militias to withdraw. The 450-member UN force, meanwhile, was confined to barracks after a UN truck carrying two officers was apparently ambushed outside Shyorona village, about 20 kilometers northwest of the capital. A Uruguayan major was killed and his Bangladeshi comrade wounded when the truck was blown apart, Plante said. Rebels from the Rwanda Patriotic Front struck around 3 A.M., apparently launching the raid from its stronghold of Gisozi. The UN said at least 40 people were killed and 40 wounded, mostly 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. The Red Cross hospital in Kigali, which is operating without blood supplies, reported more than 200 casualties overnight, many refugees wounded in the rebels' shelling. Many were children or women, and most had suffered shrapnel wounds from mortar shells. 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 that began April 6. Rebels said they were not prepared to wait for the United Nations. "If the United Nations wants to supplement our efforts, well and good. But we must act now. People are being massacred every day," said one Patriotic Front official, who requested anonymity.