KIGALI, Dec 4 (Reuters) - More than 250 Hutu rebels were killed by the Rwandan army in northwest Rwanda during a two-week operation which began in mid-November, military sources told Reuters on Friday.
The Rwandan army moved into Gishwati Forest near the northwestern town of Gisenyi on November 16 to flush rebels from their hideouts, said a senior army officer in Gisenyi. He declined to be identified.
"At the end of the first day of fighting, we counted 50 dead among the infiltrators," the officer said, adding that other bodies may have been removed by fleeing rebels.
Hutu "Interahamwe" militia, and ex-FAR soldiers of the former Hutu Rwandan government, were the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in which more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered.
Those that managed to flee after the killings have waged a four-year guerrilla war against the Tutsi-led government which came to power in July 1994.
The officer said last month's operation continued until the army clashed with a two-battalion force of the rebels, estimated at between 1,000 and 1,200 men, in the Ramba administrative zone on November 27.
"The force was disbanded, one battalion managed to escape, while another one was encircled and beaten up," the officer said.
"In this one-day battle, more than 200 ex-FAR (soldiers) and Interahamwe militia were killed." There was no independent confirmation of his claims.
Among those killed was an ex-FAR officer, Captain Joseph Nzabonimpa, code-named Karatsi, who was head of the traffic police before the genocide, the officer said.
"They (the rebels) came thinking that the population would collaborate with them as usual," the head of Gitwa village in Ramba, Gaspard Muvunyi, told the Rwanda News Agency on a visit to the scene on Thursday.
"Instead they met the staunch resistance of the local defence force and the population which called upon the army to intervene," he added.
At the beginning of the armed rebellion, local Hutu residents supported the rebels by providing them with shelter and food. Many civilians also participated in raids which destroyed government buildings, bridges, schools and hospitals.
But government officials claim such support is waning and say around 600,000 residents of northwest Rwanda have left their homes to seek protection near army positions or government buildings.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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