5 Foreign Tourists Killed in Uganda
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) _ Ugandan army troops trying to rescue at least 14 kidnapped foreign tourists traded gunfire today with the Rwandan rebels holding them. Five tourists were killed in the crossfire and seven rescued.
The rescue operation was carried out this morning in a rain forest in southwestern Uganda, where the rebels _ armed with semi-automatic weapons _ 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 late Sunday at campgrounds on the edge of Bwindi National Park, known as the Impenetrable Forest, the starting point for visitors hoping to glimpse rare mountain gorillas.
``Five tourists were killed in crossfire during the rescue operation, and seven have been rescued,″ Naigambi said. Names and nationalities of the dead or the rescued were not immediately available. The bodies were taken to Kambuga Hospital in Rukungiri, a district in western Uganda, Naigambi said.
Initial reports put the number of abducted at 14, but a U.S. official said three tourists were still being held, which might raise the total number of people seized to 15.
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.
The Ugandan government imposed a news blackout on the situation today, and Defense Minister Stephen Kavuma said the government would read a statement to Parliament later in the afternoon.
British and American diplomats planned to travel today to the campground where the tourists were taken. A British Foreign Office spokesman, speaking on customary terms of anonymity, did not detail what plans were for the diplomats’ visit.
Unconfirmed reports from private tour operators Monday said one tourist and two Ugandans were killed in rebels’ initial attack, one of them an employee of the state-owned Uganda Wildlife Authority. Details on the slain tourist were not known.
France’s deputy ambassador to Uganda, Anne Peltier, was at the park when the rebels attacked and said she helped negotiate the release of nine other tourists.
``We were hearing a lot of firing all around the tent where we were sleeping, and suddenly some soldiers came in the tent and they asked for money, for jewelry, for watches. They took everything ... we had of some value,″ Peltier told Melbourne, Australia, radio station 3AW.
She said the camp tents were burned, so the people who weren’t taken hostage took refuge in a nearby village until police and the army arrived.
Among those who escaped was Elizabeth Garland, 29, an anthropology student at the University of Chicago. She spoke to her father, James Garland, on Monday to tell him she was safe.
``She said she was awakened by gunfire all around her and apparently a raid of 100 to 150 Hutu rebels came in armed and started taking hostages,″ James Garland said. ``She said they were looking specifically for Americans and would release hostages if they were not American or British.″
Fighting between the Rwandan Hutu rebels and the Uganda People’s Defense Forces continued Monday along the forested border.
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 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 all the Congolese escorts in exchange for the publication of a statement of their objectives.
The three other tourists _ two Swedes and one New Zealander _ have not been heard from since.