Tourists Ambushed by Suspected LRA Rebels

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The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has thrown more light on the November 8, 2005 ambush of five people in Gulu district, which left one person dead as reported in the local media. The agency wishes to provide some factual background and detail based on first hand information of staff who were on the ground and the rescued travellers. Here is the narrative from the Uganda Wildlife Authority;

A group of five people from “The Ascend The Nile Expedition” comprising a Ugandan resident, Mr. Cam Mcleay (Manager of Adrift a local company) and Garth Macyntyre from New Zealand, Neil McGregor and George Heathcote from Britain and Juma Tiri a Ugandan arranged a boat expedition on the Nile to run from September 30 to November 15, 2005. Part of the expedition involved going through part of the Nile bordering Gulu District. They had three inflatable boats.

In the evening of Monday November 07, 2005 the group called another Ugandan resident, Mr. Steve Willis, the Manager of Red Chilli a local company, by satellite phone indicating that their expedition had encountered problems with one of their boats and could not therefore continue upstream and requested that they be picked. Mr. Steve Willis, informed the Chief Warden of Murchison Falls National Park who arranged for 22-armed rangers to go and collect the five Nile explorers. The 22 traveled on Tuesday November 8, 2005 at about 7.30 am with Mr. Willis who drove his own vehicle, a white Land Rover registration number UAA294U. Although the expedition team had indicated that they could be picked at about 10.00am, the UWA team reached them earlier at about 8.30am.

The rescue team arrived safely where the five expedition members had camped. However, because he had an appointment with the Military Attaché of the American Embassy who was in Murchison Falls Game Park to assess the security situation in the park but also to do some sport fishing on the Nile, Steve decided to drive ahead leaving the escort vehicle which was at that time loading the luggage and boats of the tourists.

The commander of the UWA escort advised strongly against driving ahead and leaving the escort vehicle behind, but Steve argued that he was getting late for his appointment with the American Military Attaché and in any case did not need escorts. All the commander could do was literally force in one armed ranger to travel in the car and hurry the loading of the property and follow.

Steve drove off with four of the expedition team members and the UWA ranger, leaving behind Juma Tiri, the only Ugandan on the expedition team, to organize the deflation and loading of the boats and other luggage they had.

At around 1.30 p.m. Steve and his group fell into an ambush of armed thugs numbering about two. One of the thugs jumped into the road and started firing at the land rover specifically targeting the driver, Steve. He was injured and the vehicle lost control. The other occupants of the vehicle jumped out of the car and ran into the bush each in their own direction. However, Steve Willis had been shot and we believe he died immediately.

The UWA ranger ran back in the direction of Wangkwar and met and alert the group that was behind. Meanwhile one of the tourists, Mr. Cam Mcleay using his satellite phone called for help. The UWA staff in the field were informed and all the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) units nearby. The UPDF 4th Division in Gulu was contacted and a helicopter was immediately dispatched to the scene together with armoured vehicles. On arrival at about 2.30 pm, they found Mr. Steve Willis had been killed. Three of the four travellers were rescued (Neil McGregor and George Heathcote both British as well as Garth Macyntyre from New Zealand). The body of Steve and the three were flown to Gulu. All three had minor injuries sustained as they ran through the bush.

The armored group and ground troops continued with the search for the other two people, Mr. Cam Mcleay and the UWA ranger, who did not come out when the helicopter was in the area. They were later located, safe and in a healthy condition.

It must be noted and clarified that despite the regrettable demise of Steve Wilis, the Manager of Red Chilli, there was concerted effort and rapid response by UWA and UPDF to save lives and contain the situation as articulated above. Meanwhile all relevant authorities including the media were immediately informed and kept updated.

The New Vision newspaper photograph of a burnt landcruiser is misleading as NO vehicle was burnt. The vehicle involved was a Land Rover TDI white in colour and it parked is at the UWA offices in Murchison Falls National Park.

Mr. Cam Mcleay, the Adrift Manager, spent the night inside the park, but was the next morning picked by a British High Commission plane before it proceeded to Gulu for the other three expedition members. The four, and Mr. Steve Willis’s body, were flown to Kampala by the British High Commission.

All efforts are being made to close any loopholes regarding the security of Murchison Falls National Park, and a joint UWA-UPDF force is combing the area to ensure that any armed thugs do not gain access to it. This attack was carried out by about two thugs, believed to be some of the LRA remnants that are scattered in Gulu District but could also be just robbers.

The recently trained joint UPDF-UWA force is working round the clock to ensure that people visiting Murchison Falls National Park are safe. Tourism programs and activities are continuing normally in Murchison Falls National Park.

Measures and security guidelines for Murchison Falls National Park

Security in Murchison Falls National Park is and has always been a major priority for the government of Uganda. Several measures have been put in place over the past years to ensure that the park is safe for tourists and other visitors.

Government has put in place the following measures to ensure security in the national parks:

  • A joint-force between Uganda Wildlife Authority and the UPDF was trained and deployed in all the national parks including Murchison Falls National Park.
  • Daily patrols are conducted daily, and there is constant surveillance of the park boundaries by security forces.
  • Air surveillance in Murchison Falls National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park have been introduced, and were intensified after more resources were acquired.
  • Standby vehicles have been made available to escort tourists for game drives and radio communication has been strengthened.
  • Security rules and guidelines regarding movement of tourists and visitors within the national parks will be more strictly enforced.

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