Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tutsi Army to Enter Safe Zone After French Pullout

KIGALI -- Rwanda's Tutsi-dominated army will move into the "safe zone" when French troops protecting hundreds of thousands of Hutus, who fear Tutsi reprisals, pull out in the next few days, the prime minister said Thursday.

Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu, speaking to reporters, said: "We want to occupy all Rwanda. Indeed, for the credibility of the government we have to occupy all Rwanda. But we will not attack the zone."

Twagiramungu's remarks, in the capital Kigali, are certain to increase fears of the Hutus staying there and could ignite a mass exodus into Zaire.

They are also certain to upset the United Nations which had hoped the zone would remain demilitarized after UN troops take over when the French pullout is completed by Sunday.

The zone was set up by France two months ago under a UN mandate to protect Rwandans from being attacked by the former Hutu government army and militia, and to stop the rebel advance.

The former rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front now in control of the country, says it will not exact revenge for the Hutu slaughter of half a million people, mostly Tutsis, in less than three months from last April.

Twagiramungu, himself a Hutu who heads a government approved by the RPF, said that from Aug. 23 the safe zone would be regarded as an integral part of Rwanda.

He said the government would continue to cooperate with UN African forces taking over from French forces.

On Wednesday, about 130 French soldiers left the town of Gikongoro in the zone and control of about one-third of the area was transferred to Ghanaian UN peacekeepers.

Some 600 French soldiers remain. The French force is to be replaced by a 2,100-strong UN African contingent. But Rwandans in the zone in the southwest of their country fear the African force will not be able to guarantee their safety.

Some 2.4 million Rwandans live in the area, including up to 800,000 who fled there from elsewhere in Rwanda ahead of the RPF advance which ousted the Hutu government and defeated its army.

Twagiramungu said the zone had not enjoyed safety under the French presence: "The (Interahamwe-Hutu) militia has continued to kill and terrorize the population. Factories, schools and hospitals have been looted and destroyed and the people continued to flee."

Twagiramungu said his main priority was to encourage people to return home so he could begin the task of rebuilding.