JUNE 01, 1994

Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The Vatican is pressing the Security Council to send U.N. peacekeepers to a religious compound in Rwanda where it says more than 30,000 people are threatened with ethnic massacres.

The U.N. observer mission of the Holy See wrote to the council at Pope John Paul II's instructions to request the compound at Kabgayi be declared a "safe area."

The letter Tuesday from Archbishop Renato Raffaele Martino did not specify exactly what the safe area would entail other than having U.N. peacekeepers protect people.

The United Nations has designated six Muslim enclaves in Bosnia as safe areas. The designation, however, has not been enough to prevent bloodshed in those areas.

The Security Council has not yet discussed the Holy See's request.

The Vatican acted after receiving a letter from three Rwandan bishops expressing alarm at the situation around the religious center at Kabgayi, 20 miles southwest of Kigali, the capital.

A U.N. team has been sent to Kabgayi to investigate reports of 500 people massacred in Red Cross camps in the town. The team has found only a few bodies, but U.N. spokesman Moctar Gueye said the team confirmed people are taken from the camps each day and killed.

Nearly two months of fighting and ethnic savagery has claimed an estimated 200,000 lives in Rwanda. Most victims are minority Tutsis murdered by the militias of extremist Hutu political parties.

The butchering of civilians by the militias has been accompanied by renewed fighting between the mostly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front rebel movement and the Hutu-dominated government army. The civil war has claimed far fewer lives than ethnic violence.