Pope John Paul II said Thursday he was saddened by the bloodshed that occurred during a shootout between police and guerrillas that ended the hijacking of a busload of pilgrims on their way to see him.
All four gunmen, a 14-year-old girl hostage, and the bus driver died from the Wednesday night gun battle, the state-run South Africa Broadcasting Corp. said.Three gunmen and the schoolgirl died during the shootout, while the forth hijacker and the bus driver died Thursday from injuries, the SABC reported. Twenty pilgrims, including two nuns, were injured in the shooting, papal officials said.
The pope made his first public comment on the incident at the end of a Mass he celebrated Thursday to beatify a French evangelist. Two million worshipers had been expected to attend the Mass at a race course, but only 50,000 turned up in damp chilly weather.
"I have come to southern Africa as a pilgrim of peace, bearing with me a message of reconciliation," the pontiff said. "I am saddened to learn that others on their way to join me in this pilgrimage have been the victims of a hijack that caused such anguish and ended in bloodshed."
One of the hostages, French-Canadian nun Favrea Blanche, told The Star, a Johannesburg daily, that the shootout lasted 15 minutes and that the hijackers had behaved politely and said they wanted peace in Lesotho.
The gunmen were from the dissident Lesotho Liberation Army and had demanded a meeting with the pope and Lesotho's King Moshoeshoe II, officials said.
"They spoke gently with us," said Sister Blanche, 63, who has lived in Lesotho for 37 years. "They even had pills to treat people with headaches and tummy problems."