NAIROBI, Kenya — Ad vancing Tutsi rebels routed what remained of the Hutu-led Rwandan army Thursday, closing in on a complete military takeover after three months of civil war.
A swift thrust by troops of the Rwandan Patriotic Front into the last pocket of government-held territory broke army defenses, scattered the rump government and sent a quarter-million Hutu refugees swarming across Rwanda's border into eastern Zaire.
The tidal wave of humanity, which began late Wednesday, peaked Thursday with hundreds of refugees arriving each minute at the small Zairian border town of Goma, overwhelming the few relief agency officials on hand and raising fears of a new humanitarian tragedy in a region already devastated by tribal bloodletting.
France called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the building crisis and what a statement in Paris said was urgent need for a cease-fire between rebels and government troops.
Relief officials said the flood of refugees was continuing unabated and might dwarf the last great refugee exodus out of Rwanda. In a 24-hour period in April, a quarter-million Rwandans, mostly Hutus, crossed the country's eastern border at Ngara, Tanzania. What is considered the world's largest refugee camp was set up at Benaco to care for them.
"Ngara will look like a picnic compared to this lot," Patrick Fuller of the International Committee of the Red Cross said of the latest refugee flood.
The Hutu refugees are fleeing not just the fighting but also what they fear will be reprisals by the Tutsi rebel force for the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus since a suspicious plane crash April 6 killed Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana.
A government led by Hutu extremists proclaimed power after Habyarimana's death.
But the Rwandan army steadily lost ground to advancing rebels, and last month France sent a peacekeeping force to protect civilians.
Late Wednesday, the rebels seized the last big Hutu garrison, Ruhengeri in northern Rwanda, news reports said.