Government Mum on Plane’s Location; West Germans Said to Be With Rebels
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) _ The West German ambassador said today that five of his countrymen who were aboard a hijacked Ugandan airliner were in the hands of anti-government rebels, but officials gave few other details of the incident.
The Uganda Airlines Fokker Friendship was commandeered during a scheduled one-hour flight from Entebbe International Airport to Arua in northwestern Uganda on Sunday.
The pilot of the twin-engine, propeller-driven plane radioed Entebbe to say that a gunman was forcing him to fly the plane westward, toward territory controlled by the rebel National Resistance Army.
A man purporting to be an National Resistance Army spokesman called the Nairobi, Kenya bureau of the British Broadcasting Corp. on Sunday night to claim responsiblity. It was not immediately possible to verify the call.
The caller said the plane had been hijacked because Uganda’s new military government, which took power following the July 27 overthrow of President Milton Obote, had been using the flight to bring more troops to Kampala.
Ugandan officials said privately Sunday that they suspected the National Resistance Army of being involved in the hijacking, but made no public statement.
A government news bulletin said unconfirmed reports indicated the plane had landed at Kasese, 200 miles southwest of Kampala, in an area controlled by the rebels.
West Germany’ ambassador to Uganda, Guenter Held, today said that five West Germans were aboard the flight, and added, ″We have gotten indirect confirmation that they are well in a hotel near Kasese.″
″They are enjoying the hospitality of the NRA,″ Held said. ″They are neither prisoners nor hostages.″
Initial reports indicated there were four West Germans on the plane, all medical personnel based in Arua. But Held said he had learned a West German businessman who works in Kampala also was aboard.
The West German envoy said he did not have any information on the 44 other passengers and crewmembers aboard. He said he was not at liberty to identify the sources who advised him of the West Germans’ situation.
Held said he expected the Germans, and perhaps the others, to fly out of Kasese by charter aircraft or go by road into neighboring Rwanda and take a scheduled flight.
Officials in Kampala, who spoke on condition they not be identified, said two members of Uganda’s ruling Military Council were supposed to have taken the flight and might have been targets of the hijacking. There was no explanation why the military men, Isaac Lumago and Amin Onzi, missed the flight.
The hijacking occurred as the government and the NRA were nearing the conclusion of a fourth round of peace talks in neighboring Kenya.
The National Resistance Army is the largest of four insurgent groups that fought separate bush wars against Obote. Since Obote’s overthrow, three of the goups have agreed to a cease-fire with the new government.
The NRA has instead escalated its campaign, taking control of large areas of the countryside, especially in southwestern Uganda.
The first government confirmation of the hijacking came nearly 12 hours after the incident when Radio Uganda broadcast a bulletin at 10 p.m. Sunday. It was rebroadcast today.
The bulletin said, ″A Uganda Airlines plane Fokker Friendship on a domestic flight from Entebbe to Arua has been hijacked. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the plane has landed at Kasese airfield. Details of the circumstances under which the plane was hijacked are not yet known.″