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Tuesday, March 2, 1999 Published at 14:55 GMT

World: Africa

Uganda tourists die in gunfight

The tourists were on a trip to see mountain gorillas

Eight kidnapped Westerners were killed during a furious gun battle between Ugandan soldiers and their rebel captors, the British High Commission in Kampala has confirmed.

Fergus Nicoll: "The circumstances surrounding the deaths are yet to be explained"
Ugandan officials said four Britons, two New Zealanders and two Americans were among those who died, but no further details have been released.

Five tourists were found dead at the scene of the gun battle. The bodies of the other three were found nearby, a British Foreign Office spokesman said.

Six other hostages - two Britons, one New Zealander, one Swiss, one Canadian and one American - were freed after being taken captive on Monday.

Anna Borzello explains who has been released
The tourists had gone to the remote Bwindi National Park in the southwest of the country to see a species of rare mountain gorilla.

The dead are believed to be four men and four women, but their identities are not yet known.

'British captives tortured'

An American tourist who escaped said British hostages had been tortured by the rebels.

[ image:  ]
Linda Adams, 54, from California, fled after faking an asthma attack as she was marched into the jungle.

She told London's Evening Standard newspaper that at least one British man had been beaten by his captors and that the British people had been ''treated quite badly".

Another American who escaped, Elizabeth Garland, 29, said the rebels had singled out US and British nationals as hostages.

Robin Cook: "This latest tragedy highlights the humas cost of the ongoing conflict"
The abduction was blamed on Rwandan Hutu rebels based in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Witnesses said about 150 heavily-armed rebels stormed the park headquarters and rounded up the tourists. They then disappeared into the forest with their captives.

Gun fight

BBC Africa Correspondent Jane Standley explains why the tourists would have gone to Uganda
It is not known if the tourists were killed during a rescue attempt. Ugandan security forces had been tracking through thick jungle to find the rebel kidnappers.

The UK Foreign Office spokesman said: "It appears that during the night there was some kind of a fire-fight between the rebels, park rangers and soldiers. There were also Ugandan casualties."

UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Britain had told Uganda it did not want any intervention that might put lives at risk.

In December, four Western tourists held hostage in Yemen died during a rescue attempt by Yemeni forces.

Earlier releases

[ image: A rare picture of Interahamwe rebels]
A rare picture of Interahamwe rebels
Diplomats have been arriving at the national park - also known as the Impenetrable Forest - where the group was taken hostage.

Seven of the tourists rounded up on Monday were released on the same day, including France's Deputy Ambassador to Uganda, Anne Peltier, who negotiated the release of all the French tourists and some Australians.

She said firing had started around the tent where people were sleeping.

Eric Naigambi, Asst Superintendant. Ugandan Police, Kampala
"Suddenly some soldiers came in the tent and they asked for money, for jewellery, for watches."

Twelve tourists, one of them a British national, escaped the kidnappers by fleeing into the jungle and arrived later in Kampala.

Gruesome reputation

The Hutu rebels - the Interahamwe - fled Rwanda after they took part in the 1994 genocide of more than 500,000 Tutsis.

[ image:  ]
They have been crossing into Uganda from bases in eastern Congo to ambush vehicles and kidnap or kill passengers.

Last August they abducted a number of foreign tourists who were on a mountain trek just across the border inside the Democratic Republic of Congo. One of the tourists has since been released but the remainder are still in captivity.

UK-based travel firm Abercrombie and Kent, which ran a campsite where three of the tourists in the latest incident had been staying, said security issues were left mostly in the hands of local park wardens.

The Bwindi National Park covers 331 sq km and is home to an estimated 300 mountain gorillas - half the entire global population.

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