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Tourist Killings in Buhoma

Tourist Killings in Buhoma


About 100 armed men entered Uganda from the Democratic Republic of Congo on March 1st to raid 3 tourist camps in Buhoma, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Buildings were looted and set on fire, vehicles were burnt, and 17 people were kidnapped and taken into the forest. It seems likely that the attackers had been told about the exact whereabouts of the tourists by Ugandans. After freeing some hostages, the kidnappers hacked 8 tourists to death with machetes (4 Britons, 2 Americans and 2 New Zealanders). One Ugandan, the Community Conservation Officer John Ross Wagaba, was shot and his body set on fire.

It is not clear to which group the murderers belong. They spoke Kisuaheli, French and Kinyarwanda. Some people described them as Interahamwe, others as Hutu militia. They themselves said that they belonged to the ALIR (Rwandan Liberation Army) which has become notorious for their numerous raids in northwestern Rwanda. Since the war in Rwanda, some ten thousand Rwandan rebels, militia and bandits are said to roam the forests of eastern Congo and the Virunga National Park. Afterwards, a group calling itself NALU (National Army for the Liberation of Uganda) claimed responsibility for the murders. This could not be confirmed.

After the massacre, the rebels forced a Ugandan to show them the way back to the Congo. Ugandan and Rwandan troops immediately took up the chase. By the end of March, they had killed 35 Rwandan rebels and captured 4. One of them confessed to have participated in the Bwindi killings. It is not certain that the rebels killed were actually involved in the massacre. Troops were posted in Buhoma to ensure security in the future. One source reported that another 15 Rwandan militia were killed 30 miles inside Congo, at Kihito, in May.

Uganda declared a month of mourning for the victims of the massacre. Gorilla tourism was suspended during that month. The tour companies using the raided camps withdrew from southwestern Uganda and removed their equipment from Buhoma.

Before the attack, tourism was Uganda’s second largest source of foreign currency after coffee export. About 75% of the tourist money was derived from gorilla tourism.

After the mourning, the parks were re-opened on April 1st. During April 82 tourists visited Bwindi and 47 visited Mgahinga. Some 60 soldiers were constantly present and worked together with the park staff. One gorilla group (Nyakagezi) can be visited in Mgahinga and 2 (Mubare and Habinyanja) can be visited in Bwindi. The Nkuringo group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park continues to be habituated. Apparently, there have been no gorilla casualties from the attack.

A Rwandan Soldier, Jean Paul Bizimana, 30, was charged with nine counts of murder before the Chief Magistrate’s Court in Kampala on 21 July 2004. He had been arrested by the Police anti-terrorism squad, assisted by the FBI and Interpol, on 16 July in Kabale district close to the Rwanda border. The case will be back in the court on 2 August 1999.

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