OCTOBER 20, 1994

Associated Press

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) -- United Nations officials traveled to southern Rwanda Thursday to investigate the slaying of a Roman Catholic priest from Montreal.

According to a preliminary report by U.N. military observers, the Rev. Claude Simard, 60, was strangled and hit on the head Monday evening at his home in Ruyenzi by attackers he apparently knew. The attackers have not been identified.

A U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said reports suggest foreigners helping in the war relief effort in southeastern Rwanda increasingly are being harassed.

But he said the murder of the Canadian priest was the first documented slaying of a foreigner since July 4, when Tutsi-led rebels seized control of the country from their ethnic rivals, the Hutus.

An estimated half million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in massacres early in the three-month war. Fearing reprisals, hundreds of thousands of Hutus, who formed the majority of Rwanda's population of 7.5 million, fled to the south and west.

Simard, a member of the Peres de St. Croix order, had returned to his home in Ruyenzi, 40 miles south of Kigali, from a meeting Monday.

The U.N. report said witnesses saw a blue automobile head toward the priest house in the late afternoon and return on the same road at around 8:30 p.m. The report said evidence indicated at least two of the attackers ate dinner with Simard, who usually ate alone.

The priest was found lying in his office with his keys still in his pocket. There was no sign of a struggle. It was unclear whether any valuables were missing.