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Five Tourists Killed in Uganda

March 2, 1999

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) _ Ugandan soldiers trying to rescue a group of tourists kidnapped while tracking rare mountain gorillas traded gunfire today with the Rwandan rebels holding them. At least four women and one man were killed in the crossfire and one American was among six rescued.

The rescue operation was carried out this morning in a rain forest of southwestern Uganda made famous in the film ``Gorillas in the Mist″ where the rebels had held the foreigners since late Sunday, police spokesman Eric Naigambi told The Associated Press.

Three Americans, six Britons, three New Zealanders, an Australian and a Swiss woman were among those kidnapped, government officials said. A Canadian citizen also was taken.

Initial reports put the number of abducted at 14, but a U.S. official said three tourists were still being held, which would raise the total number of people seized to 15.

The Uganda government did not give names or nationalities of the five dead but said those rescued were an American, two British, one Canadian, one Swiss and one New Zealander. There was no other information about them nor about a seventh survivor that U.S. officials reported earlier.

Among those who escaped was Elizabeth Garland, 29, an anthropology student at the University of Chicago. She told her father, James Garland, by telephone that the rebels singled out American and British nationals as hostages.

The British High Commission in Kampala said eight people had been killed. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy and the conflicting numbers could not immediately be resolved.

The bodies of those killed in the shootout were taken to Kambuga Hospital in Rukungiri, western Uganda, Naigambi said.

Embassy spokesman James Okanya said the U.S. government sent an aircraft today to pick up the surviving hostages and bring back the bodies to Entebbe Airport outside the capital.

The Ugandan government said in a statement that it ``strongly condemns this barbaric act of the terrorist Interahamwe, who have no respect for human life.″ The Interahamwe is the militia implicated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide of more than a half-million people.

Uganda said four Ugandans _ a game warden and three park rangers _ were killed when the rebels first raided two tourist camps Sunday. It said the rebels numbered about 130, and that its soldiers killed four in a jungle pursuit that continued today.

The tourists were abducted at campgrounds on the edge of Bwindi National Park, known as the Impenetrable Forest, the starting point for visitors hoping to glimpse the 320 rare mountain gorillas that remain along the border mountain’s slopes.

The 1988 film ``Gorillas in the Mist″ about researcher Dian Fossey was based on her book of the same name and starred Sigourney Weaver as the woman was risked her life trying to save the gorillas from extinction.

The U.S. Embassy in Kampala said it was told that six, not seven, of the Western hostages had been released and that five bodies had been recovered. ``Three people are still being held,″ said Sara Stryker, assistant political affairs officer.

British and American diplomats headed today to the campground where the tourists were taken.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the affair ``a tragic incident″ and said his government was trying to determine what happened.

Fighting between the Rwandan Hutu rebels and the Uganda People’s Defense Forces continued today along the forested border in this east African country of 17 million people.

The Hutu rebels fled Rwanda after they took part in a 1994 genocide of more than 500,000 minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus. They are angry at Uganda, a former British colony about the size of Oregon, for supporting the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government.

The rebels have been crossing the border from bases in eastern Congo, often ambushing vehicles and kidnapping or killing the passengers in both Uganda and Rwanda.

In August, the rebels kidnapped four foreign tourists and seven Congolese guides and porters on a trek to observe the gorillas. They later released a Canadian tourist and the Congolese escorts. The two Swedes and one New Zealander have not been heard from since.

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