`I escaped by faking asthma'

"THANK GOD I took an acting class at school," said Linda Adams, who had managed to escape from Hutu guerrillas after she was captured in the early hours of Monday morning.

Ms Adams, 54, a Californian, had been freed by the interahamwe extremists after faking an asthma attack. Her quick thinking as the hostages were being marched at gunpoint up a mountain trail probably saved her from being tortured and hacked to death.

The gunmen came just as daylight was breaking over the Bwindi camp in the Impenetrable Forest on Monday. The attack was swift and deadly. The gunmen overran the guard post. The park rangers, half asleep and unprepared, had no chance against automatic rifle fire and grenades. Several were killed. The attackers then set the camp on fire.

The sound of gunfire woke the tourists in the Bwindi who had gone there to see the elusive mountain gorillas on the Rwandan border. The first one to wander out of her tent to find out what was going on, rubbing the sleep from her eyes, was Ms Adams. "The sound in the valley, the vibration was quite a shock. I got out of my tent and I walked around the corner - and then I got caught," she recalled back in Kampala yesterday, at the Sheraton hotel, a world away from the nightmare of what happened at Bwindi.

Ms Adams, of Alamo, southern California, was travelling alone. Her father had advised her against going because he was worried about her safety. She continued: "I saw gentlemen running with guns and four of them came over and grabbed me, all the money that I had, and told me to sit down. There was an older person leading them, he seemed quite calm. They all spoke French.

"After a while they brought

some other captives from the other camps, marched them up and asked them what nationality they were, if they were British or American.

"The group holding the British people treated them quite badly. A British guy was sitting next to me, but I didn't dare make a lot of eye contact with him so I just looked down. I could see he had purple toenails from being beaten. The rebels holding my group were not very hostile. They had me at gunpoint, but when they looted my cabin they actually gave me my glasses, passport and ticket when I asked for them.

"We were being marched up the hill and after a while I faked an asthma attack. I started coughing, I took out an inhaler and started using it. I was taking a risk but I thought it was worth it.

"One of the group leaders then spoke to them in French and explained my problem. I don't know why they let me go. They could have shot me, but they didn't. I also asked for my shoes and they gave them to me. But the British people were being forced to walk barefoot. They were quite a young group.

"They were really after the British and the Americans. There was a man with dual British and American nationality who was asked where he was from, he said he was Australian. There was also a woman who was Swiss who said she was a Swiss national. This seemed to cause confusion as these people [the guerrillas] did not seem to know about Australia and Switzerland. They were both released.

"I was just glad to get out. I did not really have time to be scared. It was only afterwards it hit me how bad it was."

Another American woman, Elizabeth Garland, who had been working as a gorilla researcher, also described the horror of the attack. "There were explosions and a lot of gunfire. The rebels were speaking French and Kinyarwanda, a local dialect.

"They did not make any demands but they talked about why they were interested in taking American and British hostages - because of the American and Anglo-Saxon backing for the Tutsi minority government over the Hutu majority in Rwanda."

Ms Garland managed to hide in the bush and returned to Kampala on Monday evening with the others who had been freed by the interahamwe.

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