`This is the punishment for Anglo-Saxons who sold us all'

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The Independent Online
THE PHOTOGRAPHS had been taken with care and had come out sharp. One was of a silverback gorilla and the other a kingfisher. They were taken by a tourist and meant to be mementos of an exciting holiday. But when I turned over the prints I began to grasp the savage darkness of what happened at Bwindi.

There, in black ink, in scrawled schoolboy French, was the note at the back of the gorilla photo: "This is the punishment for Anglo-Saxons who have sold us all to protect the minority and oppress the majority."

And then at the back of the Kingfisher print: "Here is the fate of all the Anglo-Saxons who betray us to the Nilotics (Tutsis) against the Bantu cultivaters (the Hutu). If you do not understand this lesson it's because you don't want to understand - but you will understand the forces of nature."

The photographer is now dead, along with the seven others who were marched away to be butchered in the jungle. They were hacked down from behind by machetes carried to clear a path through the jungle.

Holding the photographs, strangely uncrumpled and new-looking, I thought of the cold brutality with which the killers chopped down their victims and then calmly sat down to pen these long, defiant messages to the outside world.

Then I looked around at what had been left behind by those men and women, frightened and some of them crying, as they were led off. There was a fixture list for Wolverhampton Wanderers, and then, over there, the stub of a ticket to see Shakespeare in Love at a cinema in Putney, London. Thrown on the floor were cassettes of Crowded House and a mountaineering magazine called Get High. Little touches of lives of ordinary people which had been tossed away by the gunmen as they rummaged through the huts.

We had come down to the Impenetrable Forest in a troop-carrying helicopter accompanied by a phalanx of soldiers in camouflage nervously fingeringsemi- automatic rifles. After landing, as we made our journey along a track to the safari camps, a group of villagers came out to watch. They had seen a lot of men with guns recently. The officers tried to reassure them that this time they had nothing to fear.

Then there we were, in among the huts where the Hutu militia had descended that morning to begin a nightmare. There lay the upturned skeleton of a burnt-out truck, the kind of thing one might see in a bad road accident. But this one had been deliberately set on fire and rolled on to the body of Paul Wagaba, the community warden, one of the few who had managed to return fire before the camp was overwhelmed. "He was a brave man," whispered a young warden, and crossed himself.

There were other burnt-out wrecks of four-wheel drives, and there were the huts with the roofs burnt out and looking out into a vivid blue, cloudless sky, and a few bits of furniture which had been smashed by the raiders, perhaps frustrated at not finding more loot.

The air around us hung heavy and stagnant. Looking up from the campsite, the hills appeared steep and uncompromising. It would have been a hard climb for the hostages as they were pushed and prodded up that path, not knowing what was to happen to them.

Jeremiah Twinomujni was there when the rebels came. He spoke softly, pausing sometimes as images of the night came racing into his mind. "There were women, women among the rebels. They were shouting "Zana mafarango," Kinyarwanda for "Bring money". They dressed ordinary, like civilians, but they were carrying guns, machetes and hammers. They were breaking down doors, they were screaming.

"I ran into the bush to hide. But I could see what they were doing. They were setting fire to the buildings and the trucks and then they killed Paul Wagaba and burned his body ..." His voice faded away to a whisper.

Alongside him, Chris Oryema remembers the red headbands of the rebels dancing in front of his eyes in the night lit by burning cars. "There were about 200 of them," he said. "They were all quite young, none of them over 30. They were vicious. I just jumped out of the window and rolled into the bush and I am alive now."

Lieutenant-Colonel Benon Biraro looked up into the canopy of the forest and said: "We shall find them, catch them and if necessary kill them. They are going into the Congo. We have followed them there."

Then, taking a deep breath, he outlined what had happened after the rebels had taken the hostages. "After getting the tourists in the morning we know two or three women couldn't cope, they couldn't climb the hill, they pleaded with the rebels and were released. But then we know there were two other women who also had problems walking the hill. This was the first group that was killed, including a man."

In a concerted operation by Rwandan and Ugandan troops, 15 Hutu rebels of the gang which murdered the tourists were killed in an ambush inside the Congo yesterday.