Uganda massacre: `I cried, thinking I'm finished'

The Survivors
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The Independent Online
By Lucy Hannan in Kampala and Andrew Buncombe

TWO OF the Western tourists who managed to escape the butchery inflicted on their companions have spoken of their miraculous survival.

Danja Walthers, 26, from Zurich, said she had actually begged the kidnappers to let her stay with the British and American tourists rather than the French-speakers in the group. It was the English speakers on whom the kidnappers were to inflict their horrors.

She said she and a friend were dragged from under a table where they had hidden and were forced to assemble with the others. "We were forced to walk barefoot. I was the second person in line; in front of me was a woman who was a tour guide," she said.

"I suddenly heard the rebels speaking French. One of them wanted to take my friend's glasses and I pleaded, in French, `Oh please give those back, she can't see very well'.

"He answered in a hard voice, `Shut up, keep moving, keep silent'. I thought, that's it. We walked towards the forest.

"We were standing in a row and they said: `Nationality, nationality'. There were British, Australian, American, French - we were mixed. I was the only Swiss person and I was standing in the back row."

The rebels wanted to place Ms Walthers with the French group because she had been speaking French. "I said `No, I want to be with my friends, not with the French'.

"By that time, I thought I was going to be killed. I thought I'd rather die with my friends than with strangers."

Ms Walthers said she lost all sense of reality. "I was thinking, `I'm in a film'. I thought it was a dream; I thought we'll just go a little way to the forest."

At this stage, some people - who were later killed - fell behind. "I thought they were OK. At this stage, I didn't realise they were separating us, I didn't realise what had happened. I didn't think people could kill people."

Just a few minutes before the rebels abandoned the group, she felt someone grab at her hair.

"I started to cry, thinking `I'm finished, I'm finished with my life, I have one foot in the sky'."

Gary Tappenden, aged 28, from Bromley, Kent, had also been dragged from his tent by rebels who then stole his belongings and forced him barefoot into the forest.

He was aware that he had become separated from histravelling companion, Martin Friend. He was never to see his friend again.

Yesterday, Mr Tappenden's parents said their son had telephoned them as soon as he had returned to Kampala.

His mother, Pearl Tappenden, said: "It was just awful, absolutely horrific. We were pacing up and down. I just didn't know what to do with myself. The hours of waiting were absolute agony.

"He came on the telephone and asked us if we had heard what had been going on. I was very emotional and shocked, especially after thinking what he had been through.

"Gary told us he had feared for his life and said he really thought he was going to die. Gary is still very tearful and shaken up. He has not really told us about anything he has been through.

"He hasn't said anything about being tortured. But in that first call to us, he said that he did not expect to come out of it alive. He just said it was horrendous. He is very, very lucky to be alive."

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