NAIROBI, Kenya — The United Nations flew in food and medicine for thousands of famished Rwandans hiding out from bloodthirsty mobs Saturday as the last European soldiers prepared to leave the devastated capital.
The army and rebels battling for control of Kigali agreed to make the airport a neutral zone so that supplies could be brought in, said Dr. Abdul Kabia, director of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Rwanda.
Mortar duels between army and rebel troops sprayed the tarmac with shrapnel Friday. The airport and Kigali were quiet overnight, but a 30-minute gun battle broke out downtown in the afternoon, Kabia said.
About 800 Belgian paratroopers left by Friday night, and 420 Belgian U.N. peacekeepers were handing over control of the airport to about 400 Ghanaian soldiers. The last Belgians were to depart by Monday.
With food running out, the first C-130 transport plane arrived with aid Saturday. U.N. officials were arranging convoys to cart the food and medicine to the national stadium and King Faisal Hospital, where about 12,000 people were camped out, many relying on scanty rations shared by peacekeepers.
Murderous gangs prowled Nyrambo, an industrial section of Kigali, butchering people with machetes and tossing hand grenades into houses, Kabia said. Gangs of youths have looted the city and have hacked thousands of people to death since the fighting began.
Most of the victims were members of the Tutsi minority slaughtered by Hutu gang members and Hutu-dominated government forces. The rebels who pushed into Kigali on Tuesday are predominantly Tutsi.
Tens of thousands of people have died in the warfare and butchery that has its roots in a centuries-old struggle for power in Rwanda and neighboring Burundi between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes.
More than 4,000 foreigners have been evacuated from Kigali in the last nine days.
The United Nations is trying to arrange the burial of thousands of corpses that litter the streets.
The orgy of killing began after a mysterious plane crash on April 6 killed Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprian Ntayamira.
Ntayamira and Habyarimana, both Hutus, were returning from a conference in neighboring Tanzania on ending the ethnic violence in their countries.
Ntayamira was buried Saturday in Bujumbura, Burundi's capital.